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The Bare Symbolism of the Late-Modern Longing: A Rejoinder to Peter Leithart

Do Amish Romance novels find their origin in the Swiss Reformation? You may never have considered this question before, but it really is only fair to ask it. Martin Luther and John Calvin are regularly blamed for the enormities of the modern world. Why let Ulrich Zwingli off the hook?

Well, alright, it might be a tad much to lay the blame for “bonnet rippers” at Zwingli’s feet, but Peter Leithart does still believe that it is thanks to Zwingli that Protestants can no longer write poetry or symbol-rich fiction. In “Why Protestants Can’t Write, I” and “Why Protestants Can’t Write, II” (originally published nearly 10 years ago under the title “Why Evangelicals Can’t Write,” more on the changes below), Dr. Leithart offers the thesis that “Modern Protestants can’t write because we have no sacramental theology.” He further explains this by way of a theory of signs:

In a Zwinglian poetics, things cannot be both themselves and also—simultaneously, without ceasing to be what they are, for the very reason they are what they are—something else. Zwinglian will not permit something to be both real and symbolic, to be both wholly itself and yet, because of what it is, to disclose something more than itself. Zwinglian poetics does not permit Southern customs to be Southern customs and yet, precisely because they are Southern customs, to be haunted by Christ.

This is the basic “problem” with “Protestantism,” in Dr. Leithart’s view. In a follow-up comment, Dr. Leithart simplifies his rhetoric to make his argument even clearer:

Churches whose worship focuses on didactic, doctrinal teaching are going to shape minds, imaginations, and hearts in a particular way. Churches with infrequent communion, and churches that treat communion as “mere sign” are also shaping the imaginative lives of their members.

Churches with didactic preaching and unsacramental worship, I submit, do not produce poets.

All of this is primarily in reference to “modern” Protestantism, as Dr. Leithart qualifies from time to time, but he just as often asserts a link between this “modern” situation and the historical origins found in Zwingli. As Dr. Leithart puts it several times, “Blame it on Marburg.” The problem of our Protestant literary sensibility goes back to Memorialism.

Conservative Churchly Nostalgia

Now, conservatives have been telling “How It All Went Wrong” stories for a while now. Roman Catholics have been telling them ever since the aftermath of the Reformation, and Protestants have joined in after the onset of modernity. These stories very often do touch upon foundational issues of philosophical or theological importance. But they also tend to interact with history on a very superficial level. “Great men” or “big ideas” are credited with introducing epochs, whereas the concrete social and political action, paired with technological and environmental changes, are often mostly set to the side. More progressive commentators sometimes engage in the same kind of storytelling, but they typically fall into a hagiographical idealism, seeing the present hour as the necessary climax of the arch of history. Conservatives, on the other hand, seeing the present in a largely negative light, will point to an obviously disastrous legacy and then hold up versions of what Mark Lilla calls “The Road Not Taken” narrative as a corrective.  This is an imaginative and enticing exercise, as great stories have always inspired the hearts of humanity, but such stories are nearly impossible to demonstrate and defend in the face of critical scrutiny. When they reduce things down to particular presuppositions or interpretive paradigms, with the implication “that historical facts are only epiphenomena of a hermeneutic,” then history has been exchanged for mythology, and we are left with a just-so story.

This sort of nostalgia dominates a particular sort of conservative religious intellectual caste in our day, as Lilla notes in his critique of Brad Gregory. We see it among a number of conservative Christian writers, most of whom share specific political and aesthetic dispositions. The move towards a “High Church” aesthetic began in the 19th century, with figures like Orestes Brownson and John Henry Newman, and it has continued throughout the 20th century with many celebrated examples. In nearly every case, these figures did not produce their literary or artistic works because of their newfound religious tradition, but instead found the new religious traditions because of the literary or artistic quests. This is now its own tradition, it is safe to say, and the historiography has shown up in well-worn places. Before Gregory there was MacIntyre, and before MacIntyre, there was Weaver. Each makes a slightly different point of departure and critique, and each holds forth various “Road Not Taken” alternatives, but the general narrative is familiar by this point, and predictable. These stories are powerful in the way that they touch the imagination, but they each fall into reductionism, treating various characters and movements in unfair ways and forcing them into too-neatly compartmentalized ideological and political camps. Some of us have been tempted to describe this as the “No True Scotus, Man” fallacy.

Dr. Leithart’s essays on “Protestantism”1 fall into this tradition of high-church nostalgia and historiographical storytelling. As such they are engaging and imaginative, but they suffer from the same weaknesses as the other storytellers. In the case of the “Protestants Who Can’t Write” dilemma, the majority of the difficult work of argument is actually done by the preliminary assumptions and assertions, as Dr. Leithart seems to admit in his follow-up qualification.

But even admitting this, there are some very basic problems which permeate the entire essay. The definition of great writing is never demonstrated, and one gets the impression that the “sacramental poetics” being valorized really only represents a narrow slice of what others would consider great literature. Various examples of great Protestant writers are also discounted as either outliers or holdovers from an earlier “culture,” giving the reader the impression that the playing field can be tilted in any number of possible directions in order to influence a certain conclusion. Zwingli, for his part, is not treated fairly. He serves instead as a sort of placeholder for “all of the bad things.” Perhaps most serious of all, the expression “sacramental” is used in a very particular way, not necessarily having much or anything to do with the actual sacramental debates of the 16th century. As such, the various characters in Dr. Leithart’s story are really only symbols of ideas, and they have little connection to the historical realities whose names they bear.  

What Is Great?

As soon as the quest for great writing begins, the problem of deciding what makes for great art and how that decision is arbitrated must be considered. Are we merely comparing favorites, as friends might do on the back porch, or is there some measurement of literary and poetic “greatness” that is expected to be mutually understood? This is important when asking “where are the greats now?” or “why weren’t there more?” There’s also the matter of relative perspective. Flannery O’Connor, the star of Dr. Leithart’s piece, is certainly popular now, but is she great? Is it blasphemy to suggest that, when compared to the entire scope of human literature, she might belong to the slightly lower tier of very good? After all, how many O’Connors does it take to equal one Milton? Perhaps time will prove me wrong on this point, but if so, that only reinforces the fact that it is incredibly difficult to make such pronouncements.

In older days, “greatness” was reserved for a very select few. There are probably less than thirty “great works” in the literary canon prior to the Renaissance, a timespan of two thousand years or more. But the Elizabethan and Victorian periods saw a tremendous literary output, due in part to technological advances but also to philosophical, philological, and pedagogical ones (ahem: humanism), giving us many more candidates for greatness. 19th century America and the early and middle parts of the 20th century were also times of major production, giving us even more possible options. How many “great writers” should one expect to find in a period of 400 years? If one could only claim three or four, it would seem they had an admirable record. But what if they can get to ten?    

Identifying greatness among contemporary writers is the most challenging of all, if it is even possible. Still, in the interest of entertaining the exercise at hand, we will try. While there are many very talented and promising writers currently thought to be “in their prime,” the most towering-names are probably Cormac McCarthy and Marilynne Robinson, which is to say a lapsed-Catholic and a faithful Calvinist2. One of the only really significant changes that Dr. Leithart made when updating his essay for today was telling. In 2006 he wrote, “And if you’ve not heard of Woiwode, Enger, or Robinson—well, that makes my point, doesn’t it?” Ten years later this still holds true for Woiwode and Enger, but not for Robinson. She is perhaps the most celebrated writer of our day, and so that does not at all make Dr. Leithart’s point. It would instead appear to contradict it starkly. If the only “great” writer of our day who has also managed to retain her religious faith is a modern-day Puritan (of the separatist sort at that!), then should we not perhaps hold back on our sweeping generalization about that tradition’s capabilities?

An incredibly obvious point, but one that is nearly always left out in the intellectual circles named above, is that the most significant outlet for “poetry” in our day is not in university English departments, literary magazines, or even Bohemian villages. It is Hip Hop. If a young person in love with rhyme and verse wants to use their skills in the most competitive and influential arena today, they learn to rap. While rap has its own thickly layered history and culture, the emergence of Christian Rappers has been one of the more noteworthy talking points of the last several years, and there are those who would argue that the most important “Christian Rappers” today are Reformed Evangelicals of the low-church variety. If our categories for “great poetry” do not include a significant place for these kinds of artists, then that reveals the hidden parameters of the aesthetic conversion, and it shows the limitations of many Christians’ socio-political imagination.

The Search For Influence

Another interpretive problem with Dr. Leithart’s essay, and one that seems to effectively exclude many obvious falsifiers, is that he does not really wish to consider individual writers and their personal faith, but instead collective “cultures” which should produce great writers in noteworthy quantities. This is why all of the Protestant counter-examples he names don’t count. He limits the parameters of empirical data when he writes:

Perhaps you’ll challenge the premise: Protestants can write. Even if we limit ourselves to English and American writers, there is plenty of counter evidence. Look at all the great Elizabethan poets and dramatists, the English Victorian poets, Dickens, Austen, C. S. Lewis, and, among contemporaries, Larry Woiwode and John Updike, and Marilynne Robinson.

I’ll stand by my thesis. Assuming that the Elizabethan poets qualify as Protestants (something some Anglicans would question), they were Protestants with Prayer Books. So were the Victorians and Lewis, whose imagination, besides, was formed by medieval and Renaissance literature as much as anything. The greatest American writers have been lapsed Calvinists touched with Transcendentalism. I’ll grant you Woiwode and Robinson, but wonder if anyone really wants to claim Updike. And I stand by my thesis that Marburg has something to do with all this, even though Lutherans did not go on to great feats of fictional prowess, and two Puritans, Bunyan and Defoe, pretty much invented the modern novel. We are looking at the impact of ideas over centuries.

And so the thesis of “Protestants can’t write” becomes “Modern Reformed and Evangelical, but not Anglican or Episcopalian, Protestants, who have remained theologically orthodox, can’t write.” This is not even Zwinglianism any more, though Dr. Leithart still wants to insert “Marburg” into the discussion for rhetorical punch. After all, many of the great Anglican churchmen were Zwinglian, the formularies of that tradition have always been up for grabs, and Zwingli himself had a liturgical worship very similar to the English Prayer Book.3 Instead, the point is to highlight Protestants who lack a certain sort of ceremonial component to their piety.

If lapsed or unorthodox individual examples are not permitted, then this will serve as an equal disqualifier in all directions. Which outstanding “sacramental” writers are free of these limitations? The fact is that most of the great writers, of any tradition, have been motivated by certain subversive ideals. Many have even, pace Chesterton, struggled with mental instability and dementia. If we are only allowed to include serious and pious adherents of a religious tradition, then, quite simply put, no religious tradition has much to boast about.

But if we instead look to the broader “impact of ideas over centuries,” then Protestantism, even of the non-sacramental variety, actually looks incredibly impressive. Which geographical regions were most-dramatically influenced by such brands of Protestantism? The answer would be North America, Scotland, and parts of England and North Ireland. Do we find great writers in these places?

One might first think of James Fenimore Cooper or Washington Irving. Then there is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who was most likely not an orthodox Christian but still very much a Puritan. Even better examples of “American Puritan” literary culture would be Hawthorne, Melville, and Emily Dickinson. Indeed, Dickinson is the great master of imagistic poetry in the early American tradition, and she has the most impeccably Puritan resume.

Moving back across the Atlantic, we have the already discounted Bunyan and Defoe, but then there is Robert Browning. Robert Louis Stevenson was raised as a Presbyterian and had an especially important relationship with his Scots-Presbyterian nurse. Many people also consider Sir Walter Scott to be great (though Mark Twain might beg to differ). Some have even suggested that Ulstermen can hold their own with a pen.

If the standard in place is strict individual motivations, then the number of literary “greats” of any culture will be very small. But if the standard is the collective cultural products which appear downstream from major Protestant revolutions, then the number of greats is incredibly high. Indeed, with this looser definition of “culture,” even Flannery O’Connor would find herself haunted by Protestantism, as her work is as much Faulknerian as it is Thomist.4

Zwingli As Symbol

We ought to be able to conclude the conversation at this point. Charting the cultural influence of specific ideas is very hard and can be flipped in dramatic directions based on the parameters of the person doing the selecting. However, all of this is still an introduction to Dr. Leithart’s main argument. He is not really interested in a close examination of literary cultures. Instead, he wants to talk about sacramental aesthetics, and that brings him to his major foil, Ulrich Zwingli. Even though there are many, many, important factors to consider when pointing out the challenges of modernity, Dr. Leithart narrows his focus on “Zwinglian poetics.”

Motivated by J. P. Singh Uberoi’s conclusions about the 16th century and Flannery O’Connor’s conclusions about the 20th century, Dr. Leithart identifies an aversion to symbolism in modern Protestantism. It is Zwinglian, because it believes in “immediate” grace, rather than grace which is mediated through the sacraments, and because it places a hard distinction between symbol and reality. This “Zwinglianism,” then, continued to grow in influence until it flowered into the “Manichean” modernism which O’Connor critiqued. Zwinglian poetics, then, are the literary product of this Zwinglian-Manichean culture. Dr. Leithart explains them in more detail, writing:

A Zwinglian poetics leaves us with three choices: Either a flat mimetic realism that gives literary expression to “the real” without attempting to penetrate beyond the surface; or a flat didacticism that ignores the real in its haste to get to the point; or an allegorism that forges arbitrary links between the real and the symbolic, and in the end swallows up the real in its meaning…

In a Zwinglian poetics, things cannot be both themselves and also—simultaneously, without ceasing to be what they are, for the very reason they are what they are—something else. Zwinglian will not permit something to be both real and symbolic, to be both wholly itself and yet, because of what it is, to disclose something more than itself. Zwinglian poetics does not permit Southern customs to be Southern customs and yet, precisely because they are Southern customs, to be haunted by Christ.

This is really the punchline of the entire essay. Everything else was really a way to frame this argument. Of course, it’s the kind of thing that will necessarily drive Zwingli specialists up the wall. Is it really true that Zwingli “will not permit something to be both real and symbolic,” and if so, can this adequately be demonstrated based on his Eucharistic views? Those are enormous questions and questions which would need to be answered before any sort of “Zwinglian poetics” could really be a helpful term for broader use.

Zwingli has been quite unfairly treated in the English-speaking religious world. He is blamed for Revivalism and usually only held up as a dummy figure to be knocked down by Luther and Calvin. Zwingli’s actual sacramental theology is entirely more complicated. It still seems wise, at the present, to consider Zwingli a true “Zwinglian,” but this did not mean that he had no use for symbols as such, and it certainly did not mean that he was opposed to art or literature. In fact, the “sacraments” of the 16th century had nothing at all to do with art theory. They were entirely about God’s special redemptive grace, and not even Martin Luther wanted to explain the sacraments as mediations of the divine through created matter. After all, Luther was intensively devoted to the doctrine of the “two realms.”5 Luther, it also must be said, had his share of dualistic philosophical commitments, and even his proto-Puritan or proto-Pietist moments.

Dr. Leithart’s original title, ten years ago, “Why Evangelicals Can’t Write” would seem to be more familiar and logical, as readers immediately think of the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy and Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. But the new title is actually more appropriate for Dr. Leithart’s thesis, because he is claiming that the various problems which plague the current “Evangelical mind” go all the way back to a feature inherent within Protestantism, the sacramental theology of Zwingli. But is this true, and can it be proven? Were the 17th-19th century Protestant realms in any meaningful way bound to Marburg? Certainly Oecolampadius, Bullinger, Vermigli, Bucer, Cranmer, and Calvin all had more to say on the matter, and it is hard to see any direct line of causality between Zwingli’s views of the Eucharist and the pedagogical methodology of late modern England and America. We might even ask if the causal influence did not run in the opposite direction. Calvinist theologians like Charles Hodge and R. L. Dabney may have moved away from the position of their religious traditions because of the intellectual culture in which their imaginations were formed.

But these meandering historical observations are all quite beside the point, you might retort. Again, Dr. Leithart is not really interested in the nuances of Zwingli’s theology or its reception over the centuries. He’s talking instead about ideas which can subconsciously influence cultures. But the fact that history is not really the point is precisely the point. These names—Zwingli, Marburg, Protestantism—are symbols, and they are symbols whose signs have little to no connection with the real things that they are intending to signify.Ironically, it is Dr. Leithart who is in danger of “Zwinglianism” here, with such nuda signa at work.

A Sacramental Twist

Finally, there is the matter of “sacraments.” Dr. Leithart is following O’Connor, who is following early 20th century Catholic thinkers, when he speaks of “sacraments.” But the fact is that “sacrament” did not mean the same thing at the time of the Reformation, the time when Zwingli issued his protest. Dr. Leithart combines at least two concepts in his use of “sacrament,” the ability to understand and portray the world as “a manifestation of God’s glory” with the use of symbols as poiesis or ritual action. The writer must see his craft as sacramental, and that means he must infuse it with symbols that actually make God and His glory present. In Leithart’s words, a proper use of symbolism allows objects to “be both themselves and also—simultaneously, without ceasing to be what they are, for the very reason they are what they are—something else.” This is all actually very interesting, and at the heart of Dr. Leithart’s larger career project, but it is not the way in which “sacraments” were debated at the time of the Reformation.

Assuming for a moment that Zwingli himself could not allow symbols to “to be both themselves and also… without ceasing to be what they are… something else,” it is abundantly clear that another religious party also had this very problem. The doctrine of transubstantiation asserts that the Eucharistic elements of bread and wine cease being bread and wine when they become the body and blood of Christ. Thus Zwinglian poetics ought to be in close company with Roman Catholic poetics. Blame it on Marburg if you like, but don’t forget Trent.

This is far more than a cute tu quoque. When it comes to the Eucharist, the Tridentine position, which is still the definitive one for Rome, is that “a conversion is made of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood.” Indeed, the Council of Trent had a strong revulsion towards any assertion that both bread and body or wine and blood existed together at the same time:

If any one saith, that, in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist, the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denieth that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood-the species Only of the bread and wine remaining-which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation; let him be anathema.

This is a major problem for the sacramental poetics of Miss Flannery as Dr. Leithart has represented them. If the Eucharist really was the center of her existence, and if she really was a good Roman Catholic, then she ought not to have been able to write as she did. Perhaps she was a subconscious Lutheran. Or perhaps Maritain, upon whose work she was relying, himself never got over his Protestant upbringing. Or, most likely, the expression “sacramental” is being used in a stipulated way, meaning something more like the doctrine of the vestigia dei, a doctrine common to all Christians.

Conclusion

In some ways, this response to Dr. Leithart has been playing his same game. You see, it isn’t merely a discussion of Dr. Leithart or his specific arguments, but it is also an attempt to reorder the larger conservative search for history, identity, and meaning. The nostalgic search for a high-church aesthetic always ends in fiction—not the fiction of great literary prowess, but instead stories about history that are not true. In Dr. Leithart’s story, “Protestantism” does not mean the Protestant Reformation, “Zwingli” does not mean the Reformer of Zurich, and “Sacramental” does not mean a sign and seal of the covenant of Grace. Instead these words are symbols and bare ones at that, not connected to reality. And this is true for all of the “Road Not Taken” stories.

Nothing that has been written above should be taken as a denial of the fact that there is a real crisis in the modern world of arts, letters, and religion. There is. But this crisis is not the legacy of the Protestant Reformation’s ideals being faithfully carried out. Instead, it is the legacy of, among a myriad of decisions and events, the abandonment of those ideals. Especially, we have departed from the robust Christian humanism of Luther, Calvin, and even, yes, Zwingli. Mid-century Protestants hardly recognize the names of their fathers in the faith or the key doctrines to which they are supposed to be adhering. Before we decide which branches of the family tree to cut off, we should first make sure that we have actually identified them all.

Thankfully, in our day, the future is not entirely dim. Modernity has not proved wholly bad at all, but instead has given us new tools by which we can solve toward truth, in less time than any generation before us. We can discover if “Zwingli” is really Zwingli. We can begin answering those very complicated questions of reception, modification, and revolution, and we can do so with the concrete data rather than just master narratives. The conservative Christian mind has many gifts and talents, but it has to get over its nostalgia and penchant for “Road Not Taken” stories. There is a better way to have this conversation, and encouraging that better way is the first step in beginning to solve our most serious problems.  

  1. He often uses this term in stipulated way, admittedly reducing it to the negative features inherent within but not necessarily essential to the historical churches of the Protestant Reformation.
  2. Robinson belongs to what would be considered a liberal Congregationalist variety of Calvinism, of course, but she has been firm in her defense of both Calvin and Puritanism, and she represents one authentic development of American Calvinism. She is certainly more faithful to her religious tradition than McCarthy is to his.
  3. see Bard Thompson’s Liturgies of the Western Church, 141-146. Zwingli’s service was made up of antiphonal chanting, more frequent communion than had been the case prior, and more lay participation. His most obvious point of discontinuity with Anglican “Prayer Book” worship was in the fact that he distributed the elements of the Lord’s Supper among the people in their seats, rather than having them come up front to receive directly from the ministers.
  4. For Faulkner himself, this thesis paper provides some very interesting insight on his religious culture.
  5. For a fuller treatment of the comprehensive nature of this doctrine in Luther’s thinking, see my review of William J. Wright’s Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdoms.

By Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

11 replies on “The Bare Symbolism of the Late-Modern Longing: A Rejoinder to Peter Leithart”

“Assuming for a moment that Zwingli himself could not allow symbols to “to be both themselves and also… without ceasing to be what they are… something else,” it is abundantly clear that another religious party also had this very problem. The doctrine of transubstantiation asserts that the Eucharistic elements of bread and wine cease being bread and wine when they become the body and blood of Christ. Thus Zwinglian poetics ought to be in close company with Roman Catholic poetics. Blame it on Marburg if you like, but don’t forget Trent.”

Spot on!

Very well done. Leithart excels in the creation and demolition of straw men. Perhaps that is one reason that he has become so taken with the work of John Milbank, another prolific and brilliant theologian who unfortunately will only combat his ghosts.

Leithart assumes that the “greatness” of great art is self-evident. If we follow the historicizing tradition with its roots in Christian humanism, then we might acknowledge instead the social conditions both of the production of great art and of the judgment of some art works as great. If Leithart is disappointed that Christian art today is not acclaimed as great, then he is naive about the current conditions of aesthetic judgment. If he is disappointed that Christians don’t make art like we used to, then he is naive about the current conditions of artistic production (which are certainly not reducible to “Zwinglianism”).

Losing our double naiveté could lead to an attempt to restore Christendom (Leithart and Milbank again). Or it could lead us to raise questions about the pursuit of “greatness.” Perhaps then we might appreciate some of the more marginal figures (rappers?) instead of wallowing in nostalgia.

Also, with regards to your opening there is indeed a direct connection between Amish romance novels and the Swiss Reformation. The connection, however, is historical and (probably) not theological: the Amish split off the group of (Anabaptist) “Swiss Brethren” who 180 years prior had been Zwingli’s close associates.

The comments about rap got me thinking, if, as Leithart argues, low church evangelical culture does not inspire great literature, how does one explain the Harlem Renaissance?

“Dickinson . . . has the most impeccably Puritan resume.” I’ve read a decent bit of Dickinson and I’d say this claim is tenuous. Dickinson is at best ambiguous, at worst hostile, toward the Calvinist God she calls–in one poem–“Nobodaddy.”

Very insightful. I’m now on the lookout for “road not taken” narratives in my own thought process.

“Do Amish Romance novels find their origin in the Swiss Reformation?”
No. Many think that Zwingli is largely responsible for Amish Romance novels, but that is actually not the case. What many don’t realize is that Jakob Amman wrote what most literary scholars consider the first truly Amish Romance novel between 1694-1696, shortly after the Alsatian schism. Of course it wasn’t called an Amish romance, since the Amish were not yet self-identifying as Amish. Another group with its sources in the Swiss-German Radical Reformation, the followers of Menno Simons (who we know now as the Mennonites), were known to refer to the work as “Jakob’s little kissing book” and any copies that were found among the brothers were burned. Fortunately, there were only a few hand copied books as Amman himself was opposed to the “new fangled” technologies of the printing press, so rounding up the copies was relatively easy.
In actuality, Amman himself was likely influenced by a shorter and much earlier work originally penned by Jacob Hutter while on one of his clandestine visits back to his homeland of Tyrol (now in northern Italy), probably sometime in early 1534. Having fled first Tyrol and then Moravia under persecution, Hutter was eventually apprehended at the order of Ferdinand I, Archduke of Austria, supposedly for “seductive and heretical” doctrines taught by the Anabaptists. Recent scholarship, however, has uncovered some previously lost documents in the city archives of Innsbruck which seem upon initial inspection to point to the real reason Hutter was burnt at the stake. Apparently the Archduke found his teenaged daughter reading Hutter’s little love story one night by candle light in her room. The Archduke flew into a rage and stated that the “seductive stories of these heretical sects” would “not be tolerated” and he had all the copies rounded up and burnt in Innsbruck. While he was at it he ordered Hutter burnt as well.
As for Zwingli, there is an emerging theory that his contribution to literature was actually a short work of teenage magical fiction. He is said to have patterned this tale of young wizards in training after some of the Roman Catholic seminary students, as well as some monks and nuns he had debated in defense of his views on the sacraments. Some now believe that this little known (and not very well crafted work) may have been one of the main inspirations for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, something Rowling herself has repudiated, stating that Zwingli’s work is very clunky as he can’t seem to describe ordinary-seeming teenagers incorporating magic into their everyday lives.

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