Fun Facts From Church History: A Little Known Influence on Luther

You may not be familiar with Johann Hilten, but he was a strange little Monk with some fairly bizarre apocalyptic inclinations who was fairly influential on Luther in terms of the latter’s self understanding.

In the Franciscan Convent at Eisenach, in Thuringia, was a monk named John Hilten. He was a careful student of the Prophet Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John; he even wrote a Commentary on these Books, and censured the most crying abuses of monastic life. The enraged monks threw him into prison. His advanced age, and the filthiness of his dungeon, bringing on a dangerous illness, he asked for the friar superintendant, who had no sooner arrived, than, without listening to the prisoner, he began to give vent to his rage, and to rebuke him harshly for his doctrine, which (adds the chronicle) was at variance with the monk’s kitchen.

The Franciscan, forgetting his illness, and fetching a deep sigh, exclaims, “I calmly submit to your injustice for the love of Christ; for I have done nothing to shake the monastic state, and have only censured its most notorious abuses. But,” continued he, (this is the account given by Melancthon in his Apology for the Confession of Augsburg,) “another will come in the year of the Lord one thousand five hundred and sixteen; he will destroy you, and you will not be able to resist him.”

John Hilten, who had announced the end of the world in the year 1651, was not so much mistaken in the year in which the future Reformer was to appear. He was born not long after at a short distance from Hilten’s dungeon, commenced his studies in the same town where the monk was prisoner, and publicly engaged in the Reformation only a year later than the Franciscan had mentioned.*

When Luther learned of Hilten, and discovered his anti-monastic vitriol, and most especially his ‘prophecy’ of a destroyer of the Monastic orders, it was hardly a stretch for Luther to see himself as the prophesied one. Which he did.

Funny, isn’t it, how people we barely know anything about somehow manage to be some of the greatest ‘influencers’ in Church History.
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*J. H. Merle D’Aubigné, History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century (trans. Henry Beveridge and H. White; vol. 1; 1862), 70.

About Jim

I am a Pastor, and Lecturer in Church History and Biblical Studies at Ming Hua Theological College.
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