The Contours of Non-Conformity in Lutheran Central Germany, 1550-1600
Intellectual Geography / Tuesday 6 September, 2011
Hans Thun, a shepherd from the village of Niederdorla near Mühlhausen in Thuringia, was arrested in 1564 and again in 1583 for his unconventional religious opinions. He expressed some strange and worrying views, arguing that all that was earthly and tangible was created by the Devil and that only invisible, spiritual things were created by God, ideas which horrified his Lutheran interrogators. It is easy to dismiss Thun as a marginal figure, an example of the dying throes of the Anabaptist movement in central Germany which no longer had social or intellectual force. However, this paper aims to chart the development of unorthodox dissidents like Thun in Saxony and Thuringia in the latter half of the sixteenth century to explain their importance in the intellectual landscape of Lutheran culture. By locating non-conformists within their ideological networks, and by demonstrating the surprisingly broad environment which formed their ideas, we can also explain why their impact on the intellectual map of Lutheran Germany was more substantial than previously assumed. Thun was clearly not an isolated loner but part of his local community, and it was this background which provided the context for his spiritual development. Furthermore, Thun’s answers under interrogation show a close engagement with Lutheran theology in several key areas and, on the evidence of the biblical passages to which he referred, he had clearly listened to his Lutheran preachers. This paper will suggest that Thun’s individualised and original engagement with Lutheran thinking is the clue to understanding why his case and others like it are integral to understanding why non-conformity of this vein was a continued and important pastoral concern and a fundamental part of the intellectual makeup of Lutheran culture. Concerns like those which Thun expressed were connected to some of the largest debates in Lutheran culture in the later sixteenth century, such as the Flaccian controversy, and left Lutheran pastors determined to respond to these concerns with a variety of methods.