29 Apr Johann Kißling, Neuzugerichtetes Buß-Beicht- und Communion-Büchlein
Printed by Christian Ludwig Kunst, Berlin 1767
The world we live in certainly does not make it easy for us to believe in a good God without any doubt. It never has. Which is why throughout history, people have always wondered how it is possible that an almighty God does not intervene when humanity tears itself apart in wars.
The answer of some Baroque preachers to this question aimed at making people understand that they had to perfect themselves first. This return to the original ideas of the Reformation is referred to as Pietism in historical research. One record of this newly awakened interest in one’s own soul is the countless prayer booklets, which were printed in the 17th and 18th century to assist Christians in their search of perfection.
The Protestant theologian Johann Kißling had first published his Buß-, Beicht- und Communion-Büchlein (engl. booklet of repentance, confession and communion) in 1685. The copy the MoneyMuseum owns was printed almost a century later, in 1767. This fact in itself proves how immensely successful this printed work was.
Today’s readers will not find it easy to understand said success: the book offers little that might be captivate our attention – which is reflected in the price of such publications. Currently, they can be acquired at incredibly cheap prices, even if – unlike the example at hand – they are elaborately illustrated and beautifully bound. This booklet was 30 Swiss francs. It used to be part of a church library in the tiny village of Felsöörs at Lake Balaton. We do not know how it ended up there. What we do know, however, is that its original owner was called Charlotte Bruthren, née Krüger.
On the last two pages of her heavily used prayer book she noted the birth of her five sons in the years between 1781 and 1794. And many years later, in March of 1828, one of them committed his mother’s death to the prayer book. She passed away on March 12 at one o’clock in the afternoon and her agony only lasted a few hours, namely from eight in the morning until one in the afternoon. According to her son’s notes, she remained lucid and alert until the very end.
Countless altarpieces dedicated to Mary’s death give us an idea of how we can picture the mother’s passing: relatives and neighbors have come together in the dying woman’s chamber. Lit funeral candles have been placed at the head of her bed, which record the end of a Christian life – just as baptism candles record its beginning. One of those present in the room reads from the prayer book to console the dying woman, and perhaps even more so the surviving family. It is very likely that this prayer book was used for exactly this purpose when Charlotte Bruthren passed away.
Do 30 Swiss francs adequately represent the value of this record of a human life and a human demise?
If you want to learn more about the religious movement of Pietism, we recommend you read the corresponding Wikipedia article.