The medieval miles Christi and the Anabaptist knight : chivalric imagination in the Radical Reformation.


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This dissertation examines the use of chivalric language and ideas in the Reformation in Central Europe, paying particular attention to Anabaptist communities from 1525-1560. I argue that the exploration of the influence of chivalry in Anabaptism acts as a lens by which to see the way that religious imagination spurred creative ways of conceptualizing religious ideas and identities, as well as displaying how key theological distinctives were brought to life through culturally circumscribed metaphors and images. Beginning in the monastic setting of the Middle Ages, I trace out the contours of the knighthood motif as it arose and grew in popularity among clerical writers. This study asserts that the constellation of ideas that typified the ideal knight translated quite naturally to ministerial self-constructions, as the assertion of spiritual nobility, the utility of knightly virtues, and the necessity of a militant spirit characterized much monastic writing. This translation expanded into the early modern era, as humanist emphases on lay devotion gave everyday Christians fresh access to the spiritual knightly identity. The popularization of the religious knighthood motif made inroads into Reformation texts, particularly texts that focused on devotion and nurturing loyalty to new systems of belief and practice. The second half of the study looks specifically at Anabaptists across Germany and the Low Countries. Special emphasis is given to the role of baptism and martyrdom among the Swiss and South German Anabaptists, especially in their musical traditions. The self-fashioning of Jan of Leiden, the Anabaptist king of Münster, reveals the pliability of chivalric ideals in the burgeoning Anabaptist phenomenon, and the responses of key leaders after the failure of Jan of Leiden reveals that the metaphor retained its resonance, even as individuals were forced to alter their associations and address new concerns. By touching on influential leaders and characteristic aspects of Anabaptist culture, this study demonstrates that chivalry was a prominent conceptual reservoir for envisioning Christian life and cultivating devotion in religious contexts from the Middle Ages up through the first generation of Anabaptist reformers.