Demons, delinquents, or the divine? Delimiting the natural and supernatural in accounts of the Anabaptist Kingdom of Münster.


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This dissertation examines the three major sixteenth-century accounts of the Anabaptist Kingdom of Münster: Hermann of Kerssenbrock’s Narrative of the Anabaptist Madness, Heinrich Gresbeck’s False Prophets and Preachers, and Anton Corvinus’ True History, which he wrote under the pseudonym Heinrich Dorpius. I examine how the authors’ beliefs about the supernatural function in their narrations of the story. I conclude that the authors made liminal decisions, taking up or setting aside supernatural explanations in service to their personal biases and polemical needs. As they wrote, they came upon stories which they could recount with or without reference to supernatural/spiritual forces. If doing so fit their goals, they explained the stories as the work of God or the machinations of the devil. These explanations differ between the accounts—events that one considered the work of God or a devil, another depicted as a human lie meant to trick the people of Münster. Their compositions each drew the line between what God/the devil/people did differently depending on the author’s background and polemical purposes. I argue this conclusion is significant for the discussion of disenchantment in relation to the Protestant Reformation and early modern Europe because it shows how polemicized stories are ultimately part of the mechanism of disenchantment. By offering different versions of the same event, the various confessional parties created alternate versions of reality, where the events are fundamentally different from each other. These alternate realities, created by the authors’ liminal decisions, generated societal cognitive dissonance by offering conflicting understandings of the world.