Thursday, March 28, 2013

Bayle's Dictionary: Old Slanders Against the Reformers

One of my interests is tracking down Reformation apocrypha and myths. Today while reading William Cunningham, The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation, I came across this interesting snippet:

With such views and impressions prevailing among Romanists, it was not to be expected that the Reformers, who did so much damage to the Church of Rome, would be treated with justice or decency. Accordingly, we find that a most extraordinary series of slanders against the character of the leading Reformers, utterly unsupported by evidence, and wholly destitute of truth and plausibility, were invented and propagated by Romish writers. Luther and the other Reformers were charged, in popish publications, with heinous crimes, of which no evidence was or could be produced; and these accusations, though their falsehood was often exposed, continued long to be repeated in most popish books. With respect to the more offensive accusations that used to be adduced against the Reformers, a considerable check was given to the general circulation of them, by the thorough exposures of their unquestionable falsehood which were put forth by Bayle in his Dictionary, a work which was extensively read in the literary world. Papists became ashamed to advance, in works intended for general circulation, allegations which Bayle's Dictionary had prepared the reading public to regard, without hesitation, as deliberate falsehoods, though they continued to repeat them in works intended for circulation among their own people. Scarcely any Romish writers who pretended to anything like respectability, have, for a century and a half, ventured to commit themselves to an explicit assertion of the grosser calumnies which used to be adduced against the Reformers. Some of them, however, have shown a considerable unwillingness to abandon these charges entirely, and like still to mention them as accusations which were at one time adduced, and which men may still believe if they choose.
I had never heard of Bayle's Dictionary, but it certainly seemed like that was a source I needed to have. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Google Books had many of these volumes, including the volume with the entry on Luther.  Unfortunately, the scan is poor. Here was the first set of myths. Bayle first presents them, and then gives detailed footnotes explaining them. I wrote out the first footonte explanation, and half of the second :

Martin Luther, reformer of the church in the 16th century. His history is so well known, and is found in so many books, and particularly in Moreri, that I shall not trouble my self to repeat it. I shall principally insist on the falsehoods which have been published concerning him. No regard has been had in this either to Probability, or to the rules of the art of slandering: and the authors of them have assumed all the confidence of those who fully believe, that the public will blindly adopt all their stories, be they ever so absurd. They have dared to publish,  that an Incubus begat him [A] and have even falsified the day of his birth, in order to frame a scheme of his nativity to his disadvantage [B], They accuse him of having confessed, that after struggling for ten years together with his conscience, he at last became perfectly master of it, and fell into Atheism [C]. They add, that he frequently said, he would renounce his portion in Heaven, provided God would allow him a pleasant life for a hundred years.

[A] They have dared to publish that an incuubus begat him. Father Maimbourg has been so equitable as to reject this ridiculous story. 'He was born, says he , at Isleben in the county of Mansfeld, in the year 1483, not of an Incubus, as some, to render him more odious, have written, without any appearance of truth, but as other men are born, a thing never called in question till he became an Heresiarch, which he might easily be, without any need of substituting a devil in the place of his father, John Luder, or   disgracing his mother, Margaret Linderman,, by  'so infamous a birth.' Such fables are hardly to be pardoned in those who mention them only as witty 'conceits. This is what an Italian Theatin has done in a poem- in which he supposes, that Luther, born of Megera, one of the furies, was sent from hell into Germany. This is more monkish than poetical.

[B] They have falsified the day of his birth, in order to frame a scheme of his nativity to his disadvantage. Martin Luther was born the tenth of November, betwixt eleven and twelve of the dock at night, at Isleben, whither his mother was come on account of the fair, not thinking she was so near her time: for we must know  her husband, a man of mean condition, and who worked in the mines, did not then live at Isleben, but in the village of Meza. The good woman, being examined by Melancthon, concerning  the year was brought to bed of Martin Luther, answered, that she did not very well remember it; she only knew the day and the hour. It is therefore out of pure malice, that Florimond de Remond places his birth on the twenty second of October. He thought  thereby to confirm the astrological predictions of Junetinus, who by the horoscope of his day, has defamed Martin Luther, as much as he could. This astrologer was strongly confuted by a professor of Strasburg, who showed, that, by the rules of Astrology, Luther was to be a great man.


Father Anonymous said...

Pierre Bayle is a big deal in the world of Enlightenment philosophy. Readers unfamiliar with him can catch up here:

Ken Abbott said...

French "Calvinist" (just how much of one Bayle was is controversial; he claimed to be one and remained communicant with his local Dutch Calvinist congregation and was defended as such by an acquaintance) of the 17th century, exiled to the Low Countries. His dictionary, a scandalized many, so it was widely read, one of the best-sellers of its day and subsequently until he sort-of fell into neglect in the 19th century. I recently listened to a course on the intellectual history of the 17th and 18th centuries taught by Alan Kors of U-Penn, and Bayle made quite an appearance there; previously I had heard about him only in Glenn Sunshine's marvelous little book "Why You Think the Way You Do."

James Swan said...

Thanks guys for the comments on Bayle.