“The Land of Welfare” - The First Protestant Utopia

Eberlin von Günzburg, Johann (b. ca. 1470)

Ein newe ordnu(n)g weltlichs sta(n)dts das Psitacus anzeigt hat in Wolfaria beschriben. Der XI. bu(n)dtgnosz.

[Basel: Pamphilus Gengenbach] 1521


Quarto: 20 x 15 cm. [6] lvs. (the last a blank)


Bound in modern boards. With a 7-piece composite woodcut title page border with a man, woman, and fool. Two of the decorative blocks are re-used on the final printed leaf. A nice copy, a little light soiling, final leaf strengthened in the gutter, small abrasion to title causing very small hole.

In the utopian vision “Wolfaria” (the Land of Welfare) Eberlin describes an idealized society under the leadership of a democratically elected nobility. The work occupies an intermediate position between reality-related pragmatism and a purely utopian program. It is significant for foreshadowing ideas that will be re-emerge in the Twelve Articles of the German Peasants in 1524 (Eberlin, himself the son of peasants, was born into poverty in Swabia.) The book shares strong affinities with More’s “Utopia” and also with Erasmus’ “Praise of Folly”, which Eberlin had translated, and features an image of a fool (with ass-ears and bells) on the title. It has been suggested that, like Erasmus and More, Eberlin “sought critical readers who considered his Utopian vision with a healthy grain of salt.”(Lederer)

The two publications in which Eberlin describes his Utopia are numbers ten and eleven in a series of pamphlets known as the Fünfzehn Bundsgenossen (The Fifteen Confederates), each of which is narrated by a different German layman, who had sworn together “for the good of the German nation to reveal the common remarkable damage, which for so many years had lain upon everyone commonly.” The work offered here is the “eleventh confederate”, in which the secular statutes of the utopia are enumerated, narrated by Psitacus (“parrot”), who has carried the statutes from Wolfaria.

“Eberlin's origins are shadowy and disputed. Purportedly born sometime between 1460 and 1470 to a Swabian family of peasant stock from the village of Kleinkotz near Günzburg, the first sound textual traces of his life appear in 1489. He matriculated at the University of Basel as an ordained priest from the diocese of Augsburg. The next reliable information as to his whereabouts does not surface until 1517, when it becomes clear that he had entered the Franciscan order, probably serving in an Alsatian monastery; his writings evidence a strong familiarity with Strasbourg. By 1519, he had spent time at the university of Tubingen; at the beginning of 1521, after a conflict with his superiors, he was transferred to Ulm. He quickly gained a reputation as a troublemaker and, as is obvious from the tone of the work, his personal anger at the mendicants played a motivating role in his composition of the Fifteen Confederates.”(Welfare Land: Johann Eberlin von Günzburg and the Reformation of Folly)

“The “Wolfaria” is presented in two sections that correspond to the spiritual and secular spheres of life. From the brief introduction, it is apparent that the ruling circles of the State of Wolfaria are preparing a master plan for its future administration. Apparently, Wolfaria suffered from much the same problems as Eberlin's Germany. Naturally the Church is uppermost in the minds of the incumbent administration. To this end the monasteries are to be disbanded, the armies of begging monks to be slaughtered(!) and much of the current observance and liturgy is to be reformed.

“In the political sphere, a regime embodying many aspects of the socialist welfare state are to be instituted, but it is to adopt certain protectionist features in foreign trade. Rules are laid down for the conduct of public mores in the new Wolfaria -these were evidently to be along strictly individualist lines but tended toward Lutheran rather than the (yet-to-emerge) Calvinist reform.

“In Eberlin's welfare state the government is to be in the hands of salaried public officers (given various aristocratic titles) who are to be elected. In Wolfaria trade and the professions are to be strictly regulated -there will be no trading in useless luxuries, and the only honorable form of activity will be in agriculture, with the related services of the blacksmith. Relations between master and servant will be governed by law. ‘No master shall swear at his servants, nor beat them, nor vice versa.’ Provision is to be made that the servant shall be paid regularly, and that he should have given a good day's work.

“In the Wolfarian state the sick are to be cared for out of the common purse, medical specialists are to be provided if necessary. The public shall also be provided with entertainment by the state, of modest and economical proportions. The citizens shall be clothed in a more or less uniformly sober fashion, except for an all-important distinction between the sexes. In this state the prosperous shall help a neighbor in need -or suffer the consequences. Town planning shall not be neglected, the streets of the towns shall be wide, separate neighborhoods shall be provided for the separate trades (though one can predict certain difficulties here, due to the fact that only agriculture and smithery are eligible trades) and finally that restraint and economy should be observed in public construction. Public baths are to be provided, with the usual provision for the separation of the sexes. To facilitate this distinction, the men shall grow beards and cut their hair short.

“Education is to be a matter of public concern. The children shall begin their education at the age of three; both sexes shall be adequately grounded in German, Latin, Greek and Hebrew and should remain at school at least until the age of eight.
“In the reformed state of Wolfaria war is to be discouraged, there will be no financial appropriations for this activity. In time of war the publicly elected officials will be expected to lead the troops into battle. In such a contingency the women and children should be well cared for. As a precautionary measure, certain fortified strong-points should be kept in repair, but no more than necessary.

“As regards private enterprise, usury will be abolished; the professions of merchant and lawyer discouraged; prices will be controlled, begging will be frowned upon; game, fishing and timber shall be public property; and harvesting shall be free to all (under proper regulation). The new state will do away with outmoded reactionary customs, the confusion of multiple laws will be replaced by a simple unified system which all may understand, the practice of banishment will be eliminated, and indiscriminate minting of money outlawed.

“The state will do well to regulate the activities of priests most carefully. Priests shall not hold any secular office of responsibility and those few responsibilities appropriately borne by the priests should be carefully overseen. The priests shall be elected by the parish, may take the job or resign from it, should live, dress and work at a trade like other men. The priests may take wives, preferably locally born. They shall be subject to the same laws and the same secular authority as other men. Bribery of priests, in the form of gifts, tithes, or confession money shall be stamped out. The priest shall not be honored above other men.

“As regards religious observances, reasonable rules for fasting shall be instituted which no priest shall modify. The innumerable saints' days and feast days of the old Church shall be dispensed with and replaced by a sober paucity of holy days. Elaborate choral services shall be eliminated, together with some of the seven sacraments and the sale of indulgences. Confession shall be optional. Part of Eberlin's reform had to do with the prevalence of extorting money from the dying by unnecessary religious rituals, practices which are forthwith abolished in Wolfaria. This was a matter close to Eberlin's heart -from an interjection we understand that this was a cause of much hardship in youth.” (Bell, Johan Eberlin von Günzburg’s “Wolfaria”, The First Protestant Utopia)

Prietzel, Gengenbach Nr. 82; VD16, E-114; USTC 645150; Peters Nr. 17; Winter, Compendium Utopiarum I, p. 30, Nr. 39