05 July 2010

Friedrich Reiser, bishop of the faithful in the Roman Church who scorn the Donation of Constantine

After 1420 German Waldensians began to emigrate to the newly freed lands of Hussite Bohemia. Some sympathized with the violent methods of the Taborites while others simply wanted to escape their feudal situations and Inquisitorial pressures in Germany. Some would later join with the Unitas Fratrum.

Friedrich Reiser, a multi-generational Waldensian from Donauworth, became a master in the sect and was trying to bring some of the different Waldensian groups together, particularly the Italian and German branches. He was backed by Hans von Plauen of Nurnberg who insisted he focus on the German Waldensians. They had been decimated a generation earlier by a team of inquisitors. Reiser wandered the German lands and eventually ended up in Hussite Tabor where a kind of Hussite-Waldensian hybrid group was growing. Reiser joined with them and was ordained a "bishop of the faithful in the Roman Church who scorn the Donation of Constantine.'

This is interesting because it shows the struggle and vacillation of the medieval groups. They wrestled with Rome's status as a church. Indeed many Waldensians practiced Nicodemism*, attending the Roman Mass, participating in the Sacraments, but then also secretly meeting with Waldensian conventicles. Some Waldensian groups administered Sacraments, some still met and heard the Word, but took the Sacraments from a local Roman priest. There's even reason to believe some priests took part in Waldensian meetings.

They were concerned with continuity and recognized the apostate church had grown out of the true body. They considered themselves a faithful remnant. But isn't it interesting, the rejection of Sacralism, the pseudo-Donation, was for them the key issue. It was a Protestantism based not on Sola Fide, but rather on the Kingdom, its nature and authority. Elsewhere I argue this is the real issue even behind Sola Fide. The Kingdom's nature and authority is the real issue that brought Luther to crisis and by making the historical argument based on Sola Fide, we grant Rome the status of a true church right up until Trent. This is both theologically and historically unsustainable.

Reiser worked for a union between the Hussites and Waldensians but only had limited success. The Hussite wars had exacerbated some of the strain between the mostly German Waldenses and the predominately Czech Hussites. The Taborites had been decimated by their battle with mainline Hussite Utraquists in 1434 at Lipany and seemed to be engaged in a bit of soul searching and internal struggle. Many were not terribly keen to be ecumenical at that moment.

The Inquisition raged throughout Saxony and the Rhineland in the 1450's and 60's. Reiser's assistant Matthaus Hagen was burnt in Berlin in 1457. Reiser himself was captured and burned at the stake in Strasbourg in 1458. His successor Stephen of Basle was burned in Vienna in 1467.

-* Nicodemism is a term coming from the meeting between Nicodemus and Jesus in John 3. Nicodemus wanted to follow Christ but came out at night in secrecy to meet with him. During the day he resumed his role as Pharisee. This was a common practice among some of the medieval dissenters, especially those among the peasant class. You had to outwardly conform at least in part to the Roman Sacral order or die. There were exceptions to this which I will discuss elsewhere.
In part I made use of the 3rd Edition of Medieval Heresy by Malcolm Lambert. This book is a valuable resource even the author is almost unabashedly critical of the 'heretics'. It is published by Blackwell.

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