Making Sense of Prophecies (4): The Origin of “Lutius Gratiano”

[We now rejoin the presentation.]

With all this in mind, we can reconstruct the origin of the prophecy of “Lutius Gratiano.”

Samuel Lutz (1674-1750) was not just any churchman. He was a gifted student of languages, a devout pietist, a highly popular preacher—and both a critic of contemporary churches’ condition, and a firm proponent that better times would soon appear. Concerning the rapidly approaching advent of the Kingdom of God, for example, Lutz writes:

The most illustrious time-reckoners and scripture-interpreters set the beginning of the most unusual things between the year 1734 and 1770; indeed, some illuminated men of God entertain the thought that the children who now walk the streets may experience in a natural way the advent of the glorious kingdom.[1]

It seems Lutz himself was not above repeating sensational prophecies of his own, or citing medieval apocalyptic writers such as Peter John Olivi.[2]

So there is quite a bit of stuff in Die Hoffnung Zions, such as the passages identified by McMurrin and Wells, that takes on new significance in Jacob Spori’s new religious context and was easily interpretable in that sense. That the “decay of the Protestant churches” would be followed by a “second, much more glorious Reformation” was an idea very much in line with Spori’s new faith.[3]

As Pixton recognized, the distorted authorial name, year and place of publication all strongly suggest that Spori was not consulting the text directly when he wrote his 1893 article, but rather working from memory.

[Now we break from the presentation to dive into the weeds again.]

An earlier quotation in Spori’s 1893 article that has been overlooked reveals a great deal about the role of memory in Spori’s writing. Spori wrote:

Joseph Smith, the Prophet, gives in one of his revelations notice that the Lord had “holy men, about whom you know nothing, and those have written books.”[4]

The words between the quotation marks are not contained in precisely that form in any modern revelation. They appear to be a combination of D&C 49:8

Wherefore, I will that all men shall repent, for all are under sin, except those which I have reserved unto myself, holy men that ye know not of

and 3 Nephi 16:4

…if it so be that my people at Jerusalem…do not ask the Father in my name, that they may receive a knowledge…of the other tribes whom they know not of, that these sayings which ye shall write shall be kept and shall be manifested unto the Gentiles….

A later scriptural citation is even clearer about Spori’s memory and his use of quotations. Writing in Der Stern in 1896, Spori states:

I still have my testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s divine mission, and each year I see his prophecies and the prophecies of the Book of Mormon being fulfilled, especially that one from the Book of Nephi: “In the last time, after they will no longer hear my prophet, I the Lord will give them a spirit of deep sleep etc.

But compare 2 Nephi 27:5 (cf. Isaiah 29:10), the verse Spori clearly has in mind.

For behold, the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep. For behold, ye have closed your eyes, and ye have rejected the prophets; and your rulers, and the seers hath he covered because of your iniquity.

Spori’s interpretation of the verse isn’t unusual. What’s important here is that Spori doesn’t cite the words of the verse as they appear on the page; his quotation instead reports the meaning he attributes to the verse.

So Spori relied on his memory even for scriptural texts that he could have readily consulted. These pseudo-quotations, constructed out of disparate scriptural phrases, indicate what we should expect to find both in Die Hoffnung Zions and in Lutz’s other works: passages that anticipate Spori’s latter-day reanalysis, and words and phrases that are echoed in the prophecy of “Lutius Gratiano.”

In 1952, the Swiss theologian Ernst Staehelin looked into the prophecy of “Lutius Gratiano.” Staehelin’s article treats Spori and his conversion with utmost respect, and he hesitates to conclude that Spori had “consciously or unconsciously plucked a reference to the church of the Mormons from Lutz’s long and not always very clear expositions.” Staehelin notes, however, that Die Hoffnung Zions did not “contain any reference to the hundred years of which J. Spori speaks, and also no reference to the prophet who will then appear, nor a reference to the ‘valley that lies toward a large lake,’ and the temples and the renewed priesthood.”[5]

But compare Spori’s sequence

…a deeply distressed soul. In 100 years God will have spoken again;

with a passage from Lutz’s 1734 Neue Welt:

Go therefore, you poor child of the world; before 100 years are through, you will see how badly you have dwelt and how pitifully you have provided for your body and soul.[6]

It’s shorn of context, but a verbal echo of the same sequence is there nonetheless. As for the appearance of a prophet that Staehelin failed to detect in Die Hoffnung Zions, a potential candidate is found again in Die neue Welt.

“Lutius Gratiano”: He will restore the old Church again. I see a little people led by a Prophet…

Lutz, Die neue Welt: It is a very small group of those who worship the living God in spirit and in truth in the true inner sanctuary.  No preacher can rob the external church of its external ceremonies; he must allow the heathen nominal Christians this privilege until the time determined by God when the great reformer, the Holy Ghost, will improve everything and put it in a condition befitting God and in accordance with the gospel.[7]

What Spori understood by a “great reformer” and what Lutz meant are clearly quite different, but I think we can see here some of the mental processes by which verbal and semantic units have been freed from their context and re-assembled with a new significance. Rather than a series of complete sentences from Die Hoffnung Zions, the elements assembled by Spori are smaller linguistic units drawn from multiple works by Lutz. We read Spori’s quotation marks as markers of quotations, but Spori seems to have used them to identify summaries of general sentiment instead (or as Pixton states, “at best a paraphrasing of Lutz’s writings.”[8])

Pixton’s conclusion is that the prophecy of “Lutius Gratiano” was a “summary of [Lutz’s] writings as refracted through the mind of a convert to Mormonism,” which is accurate enough, but then states that Spori had “unconsciously superimposed Mormon ideas upon the rather rambling notions which he could recall from memory of the Bernese Pietist.”[9] This entirely overlooks Lutz’s dim view of the churches’ current state and his near-term eschatological hopes; on this general point, “Lutius Gratiano” is reasonably accurate. What Spori recalled from Lutz are moreover not just ideas and overall views, but linguistic sequences, chunks a few units long—smaller than a complete wall, but larger than a single brick—that Spori rearranges and presses into service in entirely new structures. That’s less important for reaching a simple yes-or-no determination of the prophecy’s authenticity, but critical for understanding how and why “Lutius Gratiano” and similar texts are constructed.

In appealing to Spori’s memory, we are not entirely treating it as a black box with mysterious inner workings. We have some evidence for Spori’s developing thoughts in his other contributions to Der Stern, where he occasionally touches on similar topics, including phrases that anticipate the language of “Lutius Gratiano.” He cites Paracelsus referring to a lost art of healing that God will eventually restore (April 1880); the old organization of the church, the old authentic priesthood, accomplishment of great things through weak tools, and the visit of an angel (15 May 1888); and the prosperity of Zion in the intermountain West (15 December 1892).

Staehelin for his part seems to have recognized that proving the prophecy of “Lutius Gratiano” didn’t exist was trying to prove a negative; disproof could only come from an exhaustive search for other editions of Die Hoffnung Zions, consultation with Lutz’s other works and scouring the books of other pietists.[10] A better approach to either preemptively declaring that the prophecy does not exist, or attempting a search on an even more massive scale, would be to accept a much more plausible explanation for the prophecy’s origin: recontextualization in Spori’s memory, and reporting with his idiosyncratic style of citation, of material that bore some similarity in language and content to the prophecy of “Lutius Gratiano.”

With a clearer understanding of how the prophecy of “Lutius Gratiano” came into existence, we also come closer to understanding why. Much of the context of Spori’s 1893 article has also been ignored, including the article’s title: “True and False Theosophy.” Spori begins his article with a note that a speaker at the previous conference had decried how the false doctrines of “theosophy” were leading people away. (Spori may have had in mind an 1893 sermon by George Q. Cannon against spiritualism; I can’t find specific use of the word “theosophy” until an address by none other than Rulon S. Wells in 1905.) This seems to have created some dissonance for Spori; in English, “theosophy” was primarily associated with the occult spiritualist movement of Helena Blavatsky and others, but in German, the word Theosophie principally designated a mystical and speculative movement within Protestantism. Spori identifies “theosophy” etymologically as “knowledge of God” and, derived from that, “knowledge of hidden things, mysteries, the things pertaining to God, the spiritual world, things past, present, and things to come.”[11] He takes pains to explain that just as there can be true and false religion, so too can there be true and false theosophy. We don’t need to call Spori’s situation a faith crisis, but we can observe that his life did involve a radical change of religion, location, language and social setting, with some of the ensuing tension becoming visible in 1893, centered on the word “theosophy.”

[This next section was part of the presentation.]

As we understand today, human memory is not a process of passive recall, but the active creation of meaning. Spori made sense of his present moment through prophecies of the future that he located in the past (in the form of hidden or lost books and Reformation-era and early modern theosophists). Spori’s memory of long passages is not at all reliable, but his understanding of Lutz’s dissatisfaction with churches’ present condition and Lutz’s optimistic, near-term eschatological expectation were accurate enough. Spori remembered what he had read in Die Hoffnung Zions and other works by Lutz and re-analyzed it in light of his present context, resulting in the prophecy of “Lutius Gratiano.” This prophecy that he both remembered and created in turn stabilized his orientation in time; despite his radical change in religion and location, he can still look forward to the same eschatological fulfillment. In this sense, Spori was still inside the story, witnessing and participating in the story from inside.

[But not this final bit.]

The role of memory in Spori’s creation of a remembered prophecy gives us a better sense of how Spori actively created meaning, but memory is not an essential part of how prophecies are created. If Spori had owned a copy of Lutz’s works, the result could still have been a prophecy, but one composed of more or less accurate excerpts from Samuel Lutz. And it would have likely had little if any effect on the fate of “Lutius Gratiano” over the next century.

* * *

If you would like to read Die Hoffnung Zions for yourself, now you can, both via Google Books with a searchable OCR text and in a higher-quality facsimile from the Berlin State Library. Die Hoffnung Zions was also included as pp. 747-928 in a collection (the second such anthology) of Lutz’s works printed in 1737 and again in 1756; in the copy of the 1737 edition owned by the University of Basel library, one or two previous readers have highlighted eschatologically-themed passages on pp. 749-50, 763-65, 791, 799, 806, 839, 845-48, 860-61, 900-3, and 905-6 (while it’s interesting to use earlier readers’ annotations to analyze their interests, visitors to research libraries should avoid this). Careful reading of Lutz’s other works, especially Die Neue Welt of 1734 (available here and here), would likely find additional examples of things that would have resonated in a new way with Jacob Spori after his conversion. In addition, an exemplary modern edition of the first anthology of Lutz’s works is available from the Deutsches Textarchiv, although it doesn’t contain either of these two works.

* * *

Coming up next: “Lutius Gratiano” in the 20th and 21st centuries

 

[1] Samuel Lutz, Die Hoffnung Zions, Oder: Ein Himmlisch-Schönes Gemäld recht erfreulicher seliger Zeiten … Deß … Reichs Jesu Christi?: Jenes Als die nach vergangenem Sturm-Wetter am Himmel sich hervorthüende Abendröthe (Bern: Obere Druckerey, 1732), fol. a3v; Hendriksen, “Der heitere Tag,” 160.

[2] Samuel Lutz, Die Neue Welt?: Dero Schöpfer, Fürst, Grundlegung, Eigenschafften, angenehmste Vorrechte und heilige Herrlichkeiten, Anfänge und Fortgang, Vorspiele und Vollendung: Vornehmere Besitzere und geringere Einwohnere insgesamt und insbesonders: Vornehmlich aber die nothwendigste Zubereitungen zur Mit-Gnoßschafft dieser herrlichen Wunder-Welt (Schaffhausen: Hurter, 1734), 43.

[3] Lutz, Die Hoffnung Zions, 0.

[4] Spori, “True and False Theosophy,” 672.

[5] Staehelin, “Eine angebliche Weissagung,” 8.

[6] Lutz, Die Neue Welt, 72.

[7] Lutz, 242.

[8] Pixton, “Play It Again, Sam,” 45.

[9] Pixton, “Play It Again, Sam,” 45.

[10] Staehelin, “Eine angebliche Weissagung,” 11.

[11] Spori, “True and False Theosophy,” 672.

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