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Defending Women’s Communal Life – Dominican Nuns at Strasbourg (1526)

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Oh, what a great hardship for the prioress and all her dear spiritual children! The sorrow that everyone had to suffer through listening to the false and embarrassing sermons nearly broke her heart, for the perverse preaching, which was so painful to hear, lasted from Palm Sunday to St. John the Baptist's Day (9). Three times each week he sowed his evil seed, none of which sprouted. At the end of his sermons, he always spoke sharply and severely. If they refused to accept his teaching and preaching, [he told the nuns] their community would be destroyed, their hearts would break.

In secret the prioress had many prayers said to God. She also wrote many letters, to which she daily awaited responses, to the Emperor (10) and to the [Dominican] General (11) about what a perverted man Martin Bucer was. Meanwhile, Bucer asked the prioress and the nuns what they thought of his sermons, and whether they still wanted to maintain their stubbornness. In the past month alone, he boasted, he had converted more than thirty doctors to the true religion.

The Prioress responded, “That may be, because there is a common saying: the more learned, the more perverted. Also, rarely does a great and wise orator commit a merely minor folly (12). We want to remain with what we have received from our learned forebears. You should therefore no longer bother us [4r] with your sermons.”

Angered by this speech, the Doctor responded, “You blind nuns! You should not believe everything your ignorant Prioress Bock says! I'll make her jump all right, for you should know that I have great authority from the General.” To this the prioress replied, “I am not afraid of that. Don’t you know that your behavior will soon result in your losing your authority? Your behavior tells us that your power over us is stolen and will soon fade. Doctor Bucer, why this? Is it because you no longer wish to be a spiritual father or teacher of truth? For this reason we no longer recognize you as our superior, and your heedlessness rouses in me an especially heartfelt sorrow. For with all your ‘freedom’ you lure our sister communities into worldliness (13). How can anyone regard you as a good shepherd, when you lead so many spiritual children into perdition? Oh, how badly you will one day rue your acts! Out of sisterly love I cannot but regard with bitterness and can only weep heartfelt tears for your perverse deeds.”

Now Doctor Bucer grew even angrier at the prioress. “You wicked fiend,” he said, “do not worry yourself over me. Your depravity does not allow you to accept how good and true are my attempts to help you out of your bondage.” [4v] To this the prioress responded, “That which we have freely promised and faithfully pledged to Christ, our heavenly bridegroom, comes from love. Our Holy Mother makes it neither heavy nor difficult for us to bear. We therefore do not doubt that we will receive eternal crowns of victory, because from God’s own mouth are those made holy, who persevere until the end.”

Doctor Bucer responded, “You are totally deaf and foolish. Had you listened to my sermon, you would have already heard well enough that God did not ordain the nuns’ estate. You should all attend my sermon tomorrow at St. Mark’s, where I will serve you up a good dinner, and afterward I will explain correctly the Scriptures and interpret for you – for the consolation of your souls – God’s ordination of the marital estate.”

The prioress looked with pity on her nuns, of whom forty-six were gathered in the convent’s hall. Then Bucer said, “the old Bock has you fooled into believing that you should not do my bidding.” But when all the nuns protested, Bucer again grew very angry and said that from then on they would have no prioress; all should be equal, and each might live as she pleased. This speech greatly troubled the nuns, who declared that they would in no way accept [5r] this command, first of all, because they were satisfied with the convent’s meals and did not want to dine in a convent not their own. They already understood sufficiently the true Word of God, they said, which is plenty for a simple nun. And for God’s sake they surrendered their own wills, which they did not want to recover, and they would recognize Sister Ursula Bock as their Mother-Prioress forever.

(9) April 1 to June 24, 1526 – trans.
(10) Emperor Charles V (b. 1500, r. 1519-56) – trans.
(11) The General was the highest officer of the Dominican Order – trans.
(12) “The more learned, the more perverse. ” “A great and wise speaker seldom commits a small folly” – trans.
(13) That is, in several of the city's other Dominican women's communities – trans.

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