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I am currently reading Carlos Eire’s A Very Brief History of Eternity (Princeton, 2009). Eire is the author of the memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy, which won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 2003, and a number of works of religious history, including From Madrid to Purgatory: The Art and Craft of Dying in Sixteenth-Century Spain and War Against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin.

In this intellectual and cultural history of eternity, Eire addresses, among other things, how the Protestant Reformation demystified mysticism. If you are searching for invectives to use against your theological enemy, Thomas Müntzer (1488-1525) should be your guide. The excerpt below produced mischievous amusement when I read it:

Mysticism as Delusion

Needless to say, if monasticism was a waste of time and resources, so was its prime objective, contemplation of divine eternal realities. Aside from a few radicals, such as Thomas Müntzer, who joined the peasant revolts of 1524-1535, and Melchior Hoffman, whose followers took over the city of Münster in 1534, Protestants tended to reject all claims to extraordinary mystical experiences. Müntzer, in fact, held Luther in contempt for his worldliness and lack of mysticism. “All true pastors must have revelations,” Müntzer exclaimed. But very few did, indeed. Convinced that God spoke through prophets who had been tried in the mystical furnace of spiritual self-abandonment, like himself, and sure that the end of the world was at hand, Müntzer raged against them all, calling them “diarrhea-makers,” “straw doctors,” “scrotum-like doctors,” and “donkey fart doctors of theology.” He saved his worst invectives for Luther, whom he called

Doctor Liar . . . Doctor Mockery . . . Brother Soft-Life . . .  the godless flesh at Wittenberg . . . Malicious black raven . . . Father pussyfoot . . . poor flatterer . . . godless one . . . over-learned scoundrel . . . arch-scoundrel . . . new pope . . . Hellhound . . . clever snake . . . sly fox . . . arch-heathen . . . arch-devil . . . crook . . . rapid, burning fox . . . ambassador of the devil . . . .

Müntzer was an exception, not because of his vitriolic crassness but because he was one of the very few Protestants who thought it possible for time and eternity to intersect, not just in an imminent apocalypse but also within the souls of the faithful. The same was true of the mystically inclined radicals who tried to establish the New Jerusalem at Münster, convinced as they were of their prophetic gifts and of the approaching end of human history. But their tradition would vanish like a puff of smoke with their defeat and executions.

The overwhelming majority of Protestants rejected the possibility of mystical intimacy with the divine in this life, even in the radical Anabaptist tradition (pp. 140-141).

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