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

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Now Doctor Bucer grew angry and said that they should not speak with the prioress; she has despised all of his commands and always opposed his good teachings. She is therefore now under the ban (14). But the prioress intervened, “Who condemns me to banishment?” “I do through my powers,” Bucer replied, “because you so boldly reject the word of God.” The prioress responded, “I reject not the authority but rather your words and your teaching, which have no basis in truth. The greatest Teacher taught His Divine Word through the holy Church Fathers long ago, before the heretics perversely advanced [their own teachings] from under the church benches.”

This speech so angered Dr. Bucer that he gave the prioress the fig (15). The nuns then withdrew and stood around her. With a fiery face he assured her that he would surely complain of her to the city. [5v] He also showered her with much disgrace. He would report her wickedness to the magistrates, he said, and they would turn her arrogance into humility. “For I possess great favor and honor with the entire magistracy,” he boasted, “and I can get from them anything I want, for they greatly esteem my teachings and believe my words as of God’s apostle.”

To this the prioress replied, “Forgive me if my words have angered you, for I said them only with good will and did not mean insult you. You are truly to be pitied, for you are a highly learned and well-spoken scholar, known to everyone, who has fallen into terrible error. Even a blind man can understand that your teaching comes not from the Holy Spirit, because it is not conducive to holiness but only to the carnality of the flesh. Had you preached about living in fasting, prayer, and penance, also other good works, many fewer persons would have followed your teaching.” Bucer then stamped his feet on the floor and raged up and down in the refectory.

Mother Anastasia Mieg (16) now told the prioress that she should leave and not answer Bucer’s words anymore. She also then secretly sent word to St. John’s (17) and Old St. Peter for aid (18).

After a while, Doctor Bucer once again came to the beleaguered prioress and spoke ugly words to her. “You stupid, useless nun!” he said, “how could you possibly dare to speak of Holy Scriptures and stupidly say that I don’t interpret them correctly? You crude, ignorant folk should know that there are many books that have not been correctly interpreted, for not all of them have been inspired by God.”

The prioress replied, “We have no doubts about whether our old books are inspired by the Holy Spirit. We desire no other interpretation and want to keep these.”

Doctor Bucer spoke, “I have never in my entire life seen such a stubborn nun as you dragons of Margaret! (19) My spiritual children at St. Mark’s and St. Catherine’s are much more obedient (20). They accept my teaching, as though it comes from the heavens. They read my new books daily. I will send you some of them on the Bible and on the apostle Paul.”

The prioress thanked him but said they already had enough books.

Then he asked, “Don’t you have any faith in me?” The nuns responded that all their faith is in the Bible and the holy Epistles of Paul. “We reject the new prophets and apostles because they pervert the Holy Scriptures.

Doctor Bucer: “You are completely blinded by wickedness, for the entire city takes my teachings for the clear truth and believes my sermons as the words of an apostle.”

The prioress said, “You may in the end acquire that title from the Strasbourgeois, but you will thereby neither honor our holy order nor gain your purpose. I fear that you will, alas, fall into a troubled and bad condition, although you could have been the one who, [6v] through your understanding and sound learning, might well have helped to block and expunge what is damaging in the new faith. In your perverted way, however, you have helped secretly to set alight in all burghers’ homes in all [religious] orders a flame that, I fear, will become a great fire in time. Your teacher, our former confessor, said to you, ‘Brother Bucer, you will either become a light of the Church or a Lucifer, but I fear that you will sooner be an angel of darkness than one of light.’ Now your teaching and sermons give credence to what he said, for from the public pulpit you have said that if Thomas Aquinas’s books had been burnt, the whole world would convert to your new faith. A true Catholic Christian cannot believe that, because the mouth of God Himself has approved this angelic teacher’s writings.” (21)

(14) It is unclear what kind of “ban” Bucer meant. Ecclesistical ban or banishment was excommunication. Bucer had no authority to declare the civil ban, that is, outlawry – trans.
(15) jemandem die Feige zeigen = a gesture of a clenched fist with the thumb protruding between the first two fingers. It aimed to protect against all possible evils – trans.
(16) Sub-prioress Anastasia Mieg (d. 1544), prioress of St. Margaret (1532-44). From an important merchant family, she was kinswoman to Ammeister Claus Kniebis (1479-1552), a committed Evangelical – trans.
(17) The Knights of St. John, a military-religious order, were immune from civic authority; their Strasbourg house survived the Reformation – trans.
(18) Old St. Peter was a collegial church and also a parish. Meant here are the canons – trans.
(19) That is, of St. Margaret’s convent – trans.
(20) Two other communities of Dominican women – trans.
(21) An allusion to Thomas’s epithet, “Angelic Doctor” [Doctor Angelicus] – trans.

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