“Deus absconditus” and the emergence of modern radicalism (2)

A very special book that deserves a place among major treatises on Protestant political theology is the post-modern novel Q (1999) by “Luther Blissett,” the nom de plume of four Bolognese post-anarchist activists. It is an absorbing exercise in what the authors call “mythopoesis,” a literary practice for which they acknowledge explicitly religious scholar Furio Jessi but has also been explored with astute sophistication by literary scholar Stathis Gourgouris in his splendid study of “literature as theory for an antimythical era.”

This sprawling novel traces the emergence of modern religious and political radicalism in the revolutionary function of Christianity in the world of a hidden God. What kind of secular meaning does the hiddenness of the divine reveal or prefigure? What fear of sight directs anticlerical protest into religious and cultural iconoclasm and radicalizes it to apocalyptic (Karl Kautsky) or messianic (Ernst Bloch) politics?

The heavily populated story is set between 1517-55, during the violent upheavals caused by the Reformation. It focuses on a multi-named, anonymous theology student, follower of Thomas Müntzer (leader of the failed Great Peasants’ Revolt in 1524-25), who becomes an armed rebel as he attempts (and fails) repeatedly to spread the Anabaptist message in Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy and is shadowed by Q, a Vatican agent spying for the head of the Roman Catholic Inquisition.

If God is hidden from the poor, who are then exploited by both princes and bishops, is it their religious duty to rebel? With its roots in peasant poverty, illiteracy, and despair, Anabaptism grows politically insurgent as it promotes communal ownership, defending God’s kingdom from church, court, and commerce. The book aspires to turn into popular myth the rise of capitalism and the formation of bourgeois subjectivity and, with its deeply melancholic conclusion, it has been seen as an allegory of the decline of the European protest movements in the 1970s.

Pantelis would bring up an earlier magisterial treatment of the same period: Following the success of their Les Huguenots (1836), composer Meyerbeer and librettist Scribe worked on another, equally successful grand opéra on the conflict between Catholics and Protestants, Le prophète (1849), which dramatizes the Anabaptist uprising of 1532 in the Netherlands.

August 1, 2016

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