David Joris, Pietist Saint: The Appeal to Joris in the Writings of Christian Hoburg, Gottfried Arnold and Johann Wilhelm Petersen

By Shantz, Douglas H. | Mennonite Quarterly Review, July 2004 | Go to article overview
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David Joris, Pietist Saint: The Appeal to Joris in the Writings of Christian Hoburg, Gottfried Arnold and Johann Wilhelm Petersen


Shantz, Douglas H., Mennonite Quarterly Review


Abstract: A growing field of scholarship has been probing the connections between late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century German Pietism and the sixteenth-century Reformation radicals. David Joris (1501-1556), a prolific sixteenth-century Anabaptist figure and reputed "arch-heretic," was highly esteemed by German Pietist leaders, including Christian Hoburg, Gottfried Arnold and Johann Wilhelm Petersen. In his influential Unparteiische Kitchen- und Ketzer-Historie (1700) Arnold made Joris the centerpiece of his story, and he observed that many in the Low Country still valued Joris's writings. He and others found in Joris and his writings a significant reference point and inspiration in their effort to promote a Lutheran form of spiritualist religion.

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The present study has a twofold purpose: to document the significant influence of David Joris among radical German Pietists, and to account for this appeal. This study contributes to a small but growing historiography that links the Radical Reformation with later radical German Pietism. Horst Weigelt has done important work in demonstrating connections between the Schwenkfelders and later German Pietist groups, and Marcus Meyer between Anabaptists and the Pietists. (1) In the first volume of Geschichte des Pietismus, Martin Brecht pointed to the influence of sixteenth-century German Spiritualists and Jakob Bohme among leading Pietists. (2) Brecht documented the widespread popularity of works by Schwenckfeld, Valentin Weigel and Johann Arndt and their importance for the "prehistory" of Pietism. Pietists read these writers with appreciation for their stress upon inward piety. (3)

Ignored in these discussions, however, is another popular figure among the Pietists, David Joris (ca.1501-1556). After the fall of Munster in 1535, the glass painter from Delft became the most important Anabaptist leader in the Netherlands, especially through the early 1540s, successfully competing for disciples with Menno Simons. Joris, claims Gary Waite, "was one of the most infamous men in the Low Countries, hounded by the imperial authorities and adored by perhaps thousands of supporters who willingly risked their lives and shared their resources to keep their beloved leader alive." (4) A visionary, a mystic, a prophet who proclaimed himself the "third David," Joris was also a prolific and talented author, producing books, pamphlets, hymns and innumerable letters. His major work was the Wonder Book of 1542. In all over 240 published works have survived, including a volume of songs as well as a large number of manuscript items and several artistic representations of his ideas. (5) According to the Dutch historian Mirjam G.K. van Veen, "the willingness of printers to publish Joris's works long after his death ... illustrates his abiding influence in the Low Countries" and beyond. There is evidence that many of his writings continued to circulate in manuscript. (6)

In 1538 Holland courts put a price on Joris's head. Joris fled the northern Netherlands, living in Antwerp from 1539 to 1544. (7) In spring 1544, Joris and his family arrived in Basel where he presented himself to the city council as a merchant and evangelical refugee by the name of Johann van Brugge and soon received Basel citizenship. Joris lived in Basel as a Nicodemite, internalizing or "Spiritualizing the Crusade," and forsaking sectarian Anabaptism. (8) A couple of years after his death in 1556, Joris's true identity was discovered when the jurist Bonifacius Amerbach prompted the city council to investigate reports that Johann van Brugge was actually Joris, the notorious Dutch heretic. (9) Upon confirming this identity, the council exhumed Joris's body and burned his corpse and writings. (10) In 1559 the University of Basel published a critical judgment of Joris, The Life and Teaching of the Dutch Heretic David Joris. (11) The hostility of Joris's contemporaries was perpetuated by later posterity; confessional histories portrayed Joris as an "arch-heretic," ecstatic visionary and bigamist.

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