The significance of apocalyptic ideas in the thought of Thomas Müntzer
Bradstock, Andrew W
This dissertation attempts to explore the apocalyptic dimension of the thought of Thomas Müntzer, a preacher and pastor of the early Reformation period in Germany who became embroiled in the "Peasants' War" of 1525 and was executed that year following an abortive uprising in which he took a leading part. Apocalyptic ideas surface frequently in Müntzer's writings, and the aim here has been, against the background of his theology as a whole, to examine the form and content of these ideas, and particularly the function or rôle they appear to have had in his thinking and praxis. The dissertation begins with a short introduction to Müntzer. This in no sense purports to be a comprehensive biography, but aims merely to outline the main events in his life, and provide a rudimentary background against which the main study may be read. Some indication of the context out of which Müntzer's main writings emerged will also be offered. The second chapter attempts to describe, in so far as this can be done in any schematic way, the main outline of Müntzer's theology, in particular its firm roots in the soil of medieval German mysticism. A discussion like this is necessary because it is barely possible, and certainly not instructive, to attempt to understand any strand of Müntzer's thinking, including the apocalyptic, in isolation from his thought as a whole. Furthermore, since the apocalyptic and mystical dimensions are very closely linked in Müntzer's thought - a point made strongly in the final chapter - this discussion does some vital groundwork for that chapter. The two longest chapters, three and four, contain the main body of the discussion. Chapter three examines in considerable detail the shape and content of Müntzer's apocalyptic, and notes how he draws upon a wide range of biblical and other sources as he persistently warns his hearers of the imminent overthrow of the present world order, the separation of the elect from the godless, and the handing over by Christ of the kingdom to the former. The singular rôle Müntzer believes he will have in the upcoming drama is highlighted, as is his conviction that the reshaping of the world will be in accordance with the order of things (ordo rerum) instituted by God at the Creation. The final chapter attempts to understand Müntzer’s apocalyptic within the whole framework of his theology, and, with the aid of modern computer technology, reveals how even those of his writings which might appear to be the most unambiguously apocalyptic contain a close interweaving of both mystical and apocalyptic themes. Presenting the fruits of a close linguistic analysis of some of these writings, the chapter argues that the mystical terminology Müntzer uses when describing the path to true faith in the individual believer also becomes incorporated into his apocalyptic. There is a close correspondence, in other words, between the mystical categories he employs to describe the reformation of the inner person, and those he adopts to interpret the external world and the signs of the times. A final conclusion of the chapter is that Müntzer's apocalyptic had serious consequences for his 'political' programme: his certainty that the unrest he saw around him was a sign that God was now bringing about a 'full and final reformation' of the world gave him a misplaced confidence in the ultimate success of the peasants' cause, and led him not to take seriously the actual scale of the opposition ranged against them.
Advisor: Matheson, Peter
Degree Name: Master of Theology
Degree Discipline: Theology and Religious Studies
Research Type: Dissertation
Notes:Format: iii, 95 leaves; 30 cm.The author has published the research from this thesis in the following book: Bradstock, A. (1997). Faith in the revolution: The political theologies of Müntzer and Winstanley. London: SPCK.