Awaiting the Restoration in 1531

July 10, 2005 | 16 comments
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Who before 1830 was anticipating the Restoration? For many cases we like to cite, the evidence consists of quotes that have been in circulation for a century or more, and that often rest on a fairly shaky foundation. Musings of poets require much interpretation, and what deists expected was nothing like what Joseph Smith provided. Roger Williams is a more likely candidate, but the quote usually attributed to him is poorly sourced and possibly apocryphal. Are unambiguous statements and reliable bibliography too much to ask for? Like urban legends and fairy tales, apocryphal prophecies and other faith-promoting stories are useful witnesses of our hopes and fears, but accepting them uncritically lets us avoid the hard work of figuring out who really was anticipating something that we would recognize as our Restoration.

That there were such people, at least as early as the sixteenth century, is incontrovertible.

Consider Sebastian Francks’s Chronica, Zeitbuch und Geschichtsbibel, first published in 1531, as Franck describes the diversity of prevailing opinion concerning the sacraments:

As medicine is changed to poison and the best to the worst through misuse, so too scripture becomes a lie and snare in that no one agrees with another about this undivided word of God. One hears incredible things not only about Jews, Rabbis, and Sophists, but also about all kinds of sects in our time and the contention they have not only with their opponents but also between themselves and among one another such that there are hardly two of the same sect that agree with each other in all respects, indeed that are not at odds in many respects.
One holds the sacrament and other ceremonies for so necessary that he would slam Heaven shut without them.
Another holds them for a means upon which exaltation does not depend nor to which faith is bound.
A third does away with them entirely along with all external customs and ceremonies of the earlier Church, such as bans, keys, the Eucharist, baptism, divine calling, clerical office, etc., and believes that these things were a remainder of the Old Testament and now, wrecked by the Antichrist, are at end, and fell soon after the departure of the Apostles, and are never restored.
The fourth believes also that the sacraments are now not in use and does not recognize any church assembled on Earth, believing the congregation of God now to be dispersed among all heathens, and waits and hopes also for a new divine commission and prophets who will restore and re-establish the fallen sacraments, congregation, and ceremonies.
The fifth believes that all is well and presumes it best that the sacraments and all things are in uncertainty, only asking God that it remain so and that the shining light is not taken from us again.
(From the prologue to the third chronicle, f. 4r, from a facsimile of the 1536 Ulm edition; translation is mine and not without debatable passages, but curious Germanists are invited to compare it to my transcription of the original.)

Of the five opinions Franck describes, the third tells us that the disagreement concerned priesthood authority and ordinances of all kinds, not just the form of the sacrament. As attested by Franck’s report of the fourth view, some people had concluded before 1531 that the Lord’s church and priesthood were not on the Earth, and the resolution they hoped for was a restoration of both through new prophets. Franck’s own opinion, however, is the fifth, which means he was not himself awaiting a restoration, although he knew people who were. Franck, known for his pacifism, tolerance, and independence, is one of the most fascinating figures of the Reformation, but his position is not our position.

Franck’s description of religious contention does not specify that the anticipated restoration would include a church with deacons and teachers settling beside the shores of a salt sea, and it doesn’t tie the Restoration to the founding of the United States. But it does show that some people believed, barely a decade after the Reformation got underway, that a Reformation was not enough, and even if they would have eventually rejected the prophet Joseph Smith, they were looking for someone to do exactly what he claimed to have done. Better yet, Franck’s work is readily available on microfilm via interlibrary loan. Still skeptical? Good. Look it up yourself and make up your own mind.

Next time: So who did Franck have in mind with this fourth group, those who in the early sixteenth century were awaiting a Restoration? I have a theory.

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16 Responses to Awaiting the Restoration in 1531

  1. A. Greenwood on July 11, 2005 at 9:15 am

    Fascinating. I have nothing intelligent to say (ed.–naturally) but I’m looking forward to the next installment.

  2. Wilfried on July 11, 2005 at 9:43 am

    Jonathan, thank you for this interesting contribution. I concur. The idea of a drastic restoration or return to the Primitive Church, or to a radically different ideal religion, was on the mind of thinkers in the 16th and 17th century. I did my Ph.d. dissertation on transcendency in utopia’s of that period, including Thomas More’s Utopia (1516), Campanella’s City of the Sun (1602), Johann Valentin Andreae’s Christianopolis (1619), Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (1627), Samuel Gott’s Nova Solyma (1648), and others. Though very varied and complex, their ideas show how much they were aware of the “apostasy” in the churches of their time, and how much they were longing for something totally different. The description of a utopian country was a fairly safe way to vent their radical ideas about all aspects of society, including church and religion, and in refined detail. Some of those utopists came close to the idea of restoration (or, like in Christianopolis, the discovery of an entity on an island that had preserved some form of perceived original Christianity…).

    However, there is some ambiguity in this topic. On the one hand it could be interpreted as if the idea of Restoration was part of a historic process that would ripen to the point where Joseph Smith could pick it up. On the other hand it simply shows that over time people came to an understanding of the apostasy and the need for a radical change, which could only come about by the hand of God. The former seems impossible, in view of Joseph’s age and inexperience at the time of the First Vision and the coming forth and reality of the Book of Mormon. I cannot but accept the latter.

  3. b bell on July 11, 2005 at 3:27 pm

    Jonathon,

    I am a direct descendent from Roger Williams thru my maternal grandmother. His line has been in the Church since Palmyra. The family has always believed the “quotes” from him about the coming restoration. How well sourced are the quotes?

  4. Jonathan Green on July 11, 2005 at 4:16 pm

    Adam: Thanks. I’ve got one more post high in dietary fiber, and then we’ll move on to things that don’t involve the sixteenth century.

    Wilfried: Good points, of course. One of the things I rather like about the quote from Franck is its relative unambiguity and specificity. Rather than a longing for some vague improvement in Christianity, the focus is clearly on restoration of lost priesthood authority and ordinances. While some of Franck’s terms elsewhere are a bit tricky to translate, the key sentence is quite clear. In this case, it doesn’t require a great deal of explanation and interpretation to get us to something very close to ‘Restoration’ in the Mormon sense.

    B., with respect to Williams, I am ready to believe. I don’t doubt that he held opinions approximating those attributed to him in Mormon popular and devotional literature (“There is no regularly constituted church on earth, nor any person qualified to administer any church ordinances; nor can there be until new apostles are sent by the Great Head of the Church for whose coming I am seeking”). But if you start with the Mormon citations and follow the footnotes backwards, you always end up with William Cullen Bryant’s 1872 Picturesque America, and there the trail stops. The indexes of Williams’s edited works do not quickly lead to the source of the alleged quote. I would be quite pleased if some enterprising person could find a reliable citation, but until that happens it must be treated with caution. (Note that Franck is saying, in very much the same terms, that there are people who believe the same thing in the previous century, and the quote from Franck is not difficult to verify.)

  5. b bell on July 11, 2005 at 5:12 pm

    J…

    Thanks for the info. I have always wondered if the Family stories are true. It seems that the jury is still out.

  6. john fowles on July 11, 2005 at 9:10 pm

    And don’t forget the United Brethren.

  7. Rosalynde Welch on July 12, 2005 at 3:06 pm

    Jonathan, very interesting (I personally am quite pleased with your high-fiber contributions myself, being a sixteenth-century glutton. I guess I can take comfort in the fact that at least I’m not intellectually constipated.)

    You draw a distinction between Restoration and Reformation impulses in your discusion of Franck’s quote. I’ve found that, while the distinction is useful for our proselyting purposes, it’s not very useful for categorizing religious movements in medieval and early modern contexts, because—in the Anglo-American tradition, at least—it’s essentially a post-hoc artifact of the Protestant-centered view of history that prevailed in England (though for a long time it was in no way certain that it would prevail). Are things different in the continental context? Are there indeed stable distinctions to be made between Restoration and Reformation impulses in early modern sectarianisms?

  8. Wilfried on July 12, 2005 at 3:26 pm

    Jonathan, you’re right (#4) that the Franck text is pretty precise when it comes to the idea of restoration. However, you will be surprised to discover that the description of utopian countries is not “a longing for some vague improvement in Christianity”, but has a very high level of detail. The extensive affabulation, always covering a whole book, allows the utopian hosts (who welcome the European visitor) to go into often meticulous explanations as to the doctrines, sacraments, ecclesiastical organization etc in the utopian society. Prophets, revelation, conversion of Israel to Christianity, temple worship, a.o. are e.g. items described in a utopia like Christianopolis. At the same time, the loss of the original purity of the Primitive Church is emphasized in nearly all utopias. Of course, this does not mean that these utopias are blueprints of the Restored Church. The imagination of utopists leads them to surprising constructions. But it is interesting, as you pointed out, that in the 16th and 17th century there were daring mental extrapolations, which indeed went much further than the actual reforms of the Reformation.

  9. CJ on July 12, 2005 at 3:43 pm

    Great, great post. I feel there is too little substantive research into this topic–we gloss over it by citing Williams or Jefferson and proceed on to the Restoration itself. Find below the oft-mentioned Jefferson quote:

    “The religion builders have so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus, so muffled them in mysticisms, fancies, and falsehoods, have caricatured them into forms so inconceivable, as to shock reasonable thinkers….Happy in the prospect of a restoration of primitive Christianity, I must leave to younger persons to encounter and lop off the false branches which have been engrafted into it by the mythologists of the middle and modern ages.”
    (Jefferson’s Complete Works, vol 7, pp 210, 257).

  10. Rosalynde Welch on July 12, 2005 at 3:45 pm

    Wilfried: “affabulations.” What a great word! It’s going on my list.

  11. Wilfried on July 12, 2005 at 3:52 pm

    Hmm, I was just writing in French… Any word ending in -tion will also work in English. I hope.

  12. costanza on July 12, 2005 at 9:17 pm

    Of course Jefferson wanted a restoration of the church cleared of all such “mystical” fables as the resurrection of Christ.

  13. CJ on July 13, 2005 at 2:44 am

    Costanza,

    Aggreed and understood. Jefferson’s rather odd views with regards to religion (and a host of other things) are well documented. The quote merely serves as another example of the low-hanging fruit often plucked by those that gloss over this topic–not proof of any religious prescience on Jefferson’s part.

  14. Jonathan Green on July 13, 2005 at 4:17 am

    Rosalynde, that’s a good question. At least for the German-speaking region, I don’t think the reformation/restoration distinction is entirely a post-hoc creation. On this and on a number of other issues, the magisterial reformers consistently line up on one side, the radicals on the other. Consider especially the core issue of rebaptism; the Lutheran and Reformed wings accepted the validity of ordinances performed by Catholic clergymen years previously on infants, while the radical wing by and large rejected it outright. For the beginning of the Apostasy, the magesterial reformers tended to set the date relatively late, the radicals quite early. The dissociation from political power and starker rejection of Catholic authority put the radicals in a position where only a strongly asserted restitution was tenable, and they are more outspoken in patterning their efforts on their understanding of the primitive Christian church. This isn’t to deny a certain amount of restitutionism among mainstream Protestant figures, but my sense is that the radicals imagined their projects in rather different terms.

  15. Edward A. Erdtsieck on July 16, 2005 at 9:03 pm

    Jonathan:

    A very esoteric topic. I am still bedeviled by it.

    “A medicine changes into poison, so too scripture becomes a lie . . . a snare.” The idea of apostasy or falling away has been part of my belief fo the last 50 years.

    It’s a matter of perspective. We can not know what God is thinking, because we think for ourselves. Quoting Chairman Mao: “Let ten thousand flowers bloom and a ten thousand thoughts contend.” Even during the Cultural Revolution in China, Mao had something else in mind, when he proclaimed this.

    I have never heard of Sebastian Franck until reading this. So what did Franck had in mind about “the restoration and re-establishment of the fallen sacraments?”

    Edward A. Erdtsieck

  16. Jonathan Green on July 17, 2005 at 4:14 am

    Edward, glad to see you back. It’s too bad we don’t hear more about Franck; I only ran across him through a most fortunate accident, but he really is one of the most independent and individual of the reformers, with views of religious tolerance that were far ahead of his time. Franck himself thought that a restoration of the sacraments was neither possible (without direct divine intervention) nor desirable. He thought that they belonged to the external performances and commandments that the true church would not need. I believe that he is referring in the fourth opinion, the one I find so enticing, to Caspar Schwenckfeld, Franck’s friend and correspondant.

WELCOME

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