Magdalena And Balthasar The letters of Magdalena and Balthasar give us a glimpse into the lives of a merchant couple in 16th century Nuremberg, Germany. Renaissance Nuremberg was a city much like Florence, full of culture and based on a strong merchant economy. The only difference was that while Florence was predominately Catholic, Nuremberg’s residents were Protestant (Patrouch, 2-13-01). In this city, the plague ended the lives of thousands and this couple was alive to see the suffering it created. This caused two reactions in them.
One was that of fear; a fear that they too would die from the plague and so they are both very careful with their health. The second was a vision of a God that could both punish and save them from damnation. In the letters of this book we discover how a Protestant couple in Renaissance Germany dealt with the illness and suffering that their loving God had bestowed upon them. Between 1560 and 1584, Nuremberg lost thousands of its residents to an epidemic that was sweeping Europe. This was the reason for the couple’s preoccupation with purgative health care methods such as periodic bleedings, salve solutions, and bathing and drinking spring waters such as those of Lucca, Italy. In the introduction of this book, Ozment states that Magdalena and Balthasar are “devotees of purgative medicine, in search of effective prophylaxis against the ragging maladies and diseases of their age (Ozment, 14).
Due to this fear of sickness and death, Magdalena and Balthsar are fanatics of the medical remedies of the time. Through these letters we can see that religion played a major role in the lives of the couple. As we read in the introduction, they seem to have a “love-hate relationship with God, their Afflicter and Redeemer” (Ozment, 14). Throughout their letters we will discover the strong beliefs that this couple had in the “medicine” of their time and the God that they both feared and loved. Magdalena is the one who was exposed most to this deterioration that was occurring in Nuremberg. Numerous times she remorsefully mentioned the news of a lost friend or relative in her letters to Balthasar. Once while Balthasar was in Altdorf Magdalena wrote, “I must report to you a death among our friends in every letter I write; I wish it were not so” (M. Paumgartner, 113).
Even though this is a happy time in their lives because she has just found out that they will have a child, they are not sure whether this is a blessing or a curse, for now there is one more of them at risk. And later we learn that this epidemic did not discriminate the old or young and even little Balthasar dies at the young age of 10. While away in Ausburg, Balthasar receives news that little Balthasar was very ill. Magdalena wrote, “I long for you under this cross which God has made us bear by afflicting little Balthasar.” She goes on to say, “May eternal God add his grace to the medicine, so that little Balthasar will have recovered by the time you return.” (M. Paumgartner, 98). This is a perfect example of the vision the couple had of God. Even though He was the merciless God that had bestowed such a horrible sickness on their boy, He was also the all- powerful God that could remove it and restore the health of their only son.
This is the love-hate relationship that Ozment mentions in his introduction. The couple loved God and constantly praise him throughout their correspondence but they never fail to recognize that He is the one who has created such suffering for them. In a letter to Balthasar while away in Frankfurt Magdalena writes how little Balthasar definitely has a deformity in his neck. She says that she has just taken him to the doctor and he believes there is nothing that will cure him, the only thing that will help is some salve and she goes on to say, “May God help make it work!” (M. Paumgartner, 90). Statements like this display to us hope that Magdalena and Balthasar had in both God and medicine.
In a letter from Balthasar to Magdalena, he says how much Lucca, the city he so often visited for trading goods, has changed. He describes the conditions in the city to be horrible, the weather is poor and there is not enough to eat. “That such a great famine exists throughout the whole of Italy is an obvious punishment from God.” He later goes on to say “May our Lord have mercy on the poor and send soon a gracious improvement! Amen.” (B. Paumgartner, 141). Here again we see how Balthasar understands that the epidemic is a punishment from God for their sins yet He is also the only one that can help them.
Magdalena and Balthasar’s attitude towards religion can best be seen in this advertisement from a physician in Nuremberg in 1562. The pamphlet was entitled ” A Brief Introduction on How One Should Behave in Time of Plague. ” This publication discussed the medical as well as spiritual precautions that one should take during this time of sickness. “God graciously wants to save and protect us in this dangerous time of plague both by his holy angels and by his healing gifts of medicine, which he has created for our good according to his divine will and pleasure” (Ozment, 116). This couple along with all of Nuremberg believed this as doctrine.
The Lord had punished them with the plague but He had also blessed them with medicine and physicians and a combination of both was the only salvation they had from this merciless plague. European History.