[Basel: Pamphilus Gengenbach], 1521.
Quarto: 18.5 x 14.5 cm.  p.
This work is the second of Eberlin’s “Fünfzehn Bundsgenossen” (“The Fifteen Confederates”). Bound in quarter vellum and modern patterned boards. A nice copy, title a little dusty and with small marginal stain, with a title woodcut of Jesus disputing with the Devil set within an ornamental historiated border.
Eberlin von Günzburg was, next to Luther, perhaps the most gripping folk writer of the early days of the Reformation. In this work, “Concerning the forty-day fast before Easter and others, and how wretchedly the Christian people are burdened by them”, he condemns the Lenten fast as a rule imposed upon hard-working people by the Church (not by Christ) and one that the hypocritical priests and monks do not themselves observe. The imposition of the fast leaves the Christian tortured in body and soul, caught between maddening hunger and the fear of committing a mortal sin.
That the fast occurs during the spring makes it excessively cruel: “In the whole year there is no busier time for field work than during the fast. In addition, in many places in Germany there is little food, and in only a few places wine. In many places, even with hard work, one has to be satisfied with a few peas, beans, and hard pears. In no place do olive trees grow to provide oil. Who could say that the mild, merciful mother of Christendom would lay such a heavy yoke on hard-working lay people, whose consciences are set in an uproar when sometimes they need to break this tyrannical command to meet their basic needs? The full monks, who every day at a set time have a well prepared meal on the basis of their leisurely work, performed in the shade without sweat or serious effort, claim that they do something special with their fast and want to impose the same command on the lay people. such a command they would not keep even if they were given twice as much to eat with half the work as they burden the lay people in their hardship.”
Why should the poor and the lower classes observe a law that is not observed by those at the highest positions of the clergy, including the pope himself?
“This great, onerous commandment has been forced upon us by the Romanists and the pope’s courtiers. From this a compelling argument can be drawn: since the fast is broken in the courts of the pope and cardinals, at the tables of the bishops and abbots, with the knowledge of the prelates and without any opposition from them; in fact, since during the entire period of the fast butcher shops in Rome remain open and meat is bought and sold just as it is during the rest of the year, it is clear that such a commandment should be imposed even less on our rugged German land. For the breach of a human law with the knowledge and tacit consent of authority voids the contract.”
A note on Eberlin’s “Fifteen Confederates”, of which this tract is the second:
“The ‘Fifteen Confederates’ are a collection of pamphlets ostensibly written by a group of laymen, the confederates, who had sworn together to address the religious, social, economic, and political problems facing the German nation in the early years of the Protestant reformation. They came off the presses sometime in the fall of 1521, in the unsettled atmosphere after Martin Luther’s hearing at the Diet of Worms and subsequent disappearance, without indication of author, publisher, or date or place of publication. Evidence from other sources indicates that they were available at the Frankfurt book fair by 27 September and that very quickly they were known throughout the German-speaking lands.” Dipple, The Fifteen Confederates: Johann Eberlin von Günzburg, p. 6)
Gengenbach never printed a collected edition. According to Prietzel (Gengenbach) all 15 Gengenbach confederates were printed within two months (July & August 1521). The collected editions by Jörg Nadler at Augsburg (VD16, E-95) and the two by Johann Eckhart at Speyer (VD16, E-97 & 98) were printed a little later, but still in the year 1521. These collected editions have only a single titlepage; the confederates are arranged as chapters.
“Wilhelm Lucke argued convincingly that the [twelve] works were written in an order different from that in which they appear in the collection. He suggested further that the idea of the collected work had not yet occurred to Eberlin when he wrote these first components. Lucke’s revised chronology for the composition of the ‘Confederates’, with a few minor modifications by Gottfried Geiger, is now generally accepted by Eberlin scholars… According to the revised order of composition, the first ‘Confederates’ to be written were numbers seven, two, three, and four. These deal with issues of concern to inhabitants of monasteries, touching either the nature of their vocation or their interactions with the laity: the sufficiency of the parish clergy and the spiritual services provided by them, the Lenten fast and its applicability to both those in monasteries and the laity, the plight of cloistered women, and the canonical hours. Taken together, they envision a reform of the monastic life and its place in society that would have fundamentally changed the nature of the institution…
“Wilhelm Lucke characterized this group of ‘Confederates’ as focusing on individual abuses in the church, but as remaining within the bounds of orthodoxy and recognizing the authority of the church throughout. While they draw on elements of Luther’s reform plan, especially as outlined in the ‘Address to the Christian Nobility’, they avoid mentioning Luther by name. Gottfried Geiger and Günther Heger argued further that while Eberlin derives specific complaints from Luther’s work, the basic thought of these pamphlets reflects the Christian humanist reform program of Erasmus of Rotterdam.”(Dipple, p. 6-7)
“Johann Eberlin's origins are shadowy and disputed. Purportedly born sometime between 1460 and 1470 to a Swabian family of peasant stock from the village of Kleinkotz near Günzburg, the first sound textual traces of his life appear in 1489. He matriculated at the University of Basel as an ordained priest from the diocese of Augsburg. The next reliable information as to his whereabouts does not surface until 1517, when it becomes clear that he had entered the Franciscan order, probably serving in an Alsatian monastery; his writings evidence a strong familiarity with Strasbourg. By 1519, he had spent time at the university of Tubingen; at the beginning of 1521, after a conflict with his superiors, he was transferred to Ulm. He quickly gained a reputation as a troublemaker and.. not coincidentally, he left the order at that time and openly came out in favor of Luther’s evangelical movement.”(Letterer, “Welfare Land: Johann Eberlin von Günzburg and the Reformation of Folly”.)
“By any account, Eberlin’s was an important voice in the early years of the Reformation. as such, it provides us with valuable information about the reformation’s message as it passed through the medium of popular pamphlets. One of the most striking features of Eberlin’s writings is the fact that only gradually do many of the central themes of the new Wittenberg theology emerge in them. Only after he moved to Wittenberg and immersed himself in the theology of the movement there did he really begin to speak as we would expect a Protestant reformer to speak. Luther and those associated with him do appear in Eberlin’s earlier utterances, but they serve as beacons for the reform-minded in the German-speaking lands, associated more with addressing abuses in the church and society than with the finer points of reformation theology. Luther takes his place alongside Erasmus, Ulrich von Hutten and a host of other reformers, primarily from the ranks of the renaissance humanists.
“The subtitle of Christian Peters’ biography identifies Eberlin as a Franciscan reformer, humanist, and conservative reformer. The Fifteen Confederates occupy a crucial position in this evolution, chronicling his movement through the first two phases and his entry into the third. in the process, they give us a clear indication of how broadly reform could be conceived at the beginning of the sixteenth century.”(Dipple, p. 18).
VD16, E-99; USTC 632742; Prietzel, Gengenbach Nr. 71; Goedeke 2, 221, 2; Peters 2