The Times of Niklaus von Flue
13 The fifteenth century, the century in which Niklaus von Flue lived, was a time of great crises and change for the inner cantons of Switzerland, a time that Robert Duerrer has so impressively described.1
I shall summarise his account:
14 With the end of the Battle of Sempach, the time of defensive freedom-fighting came to an end and a certain amount of
independence towards the outside world was finally established.2
Within the country, the principle of democracy had prevailed
against the influence of the ruling nobility.3
With the expropriation of large properties from foreign landowners and with the acquisition of agricultural areas by allied towns, the supply of grain became so reliable that the original cantons were able to become milk- and grain-producing economies for which they were better suited.
They had, however, to ensure a market for their products, and thus, wherever possible, they took part in the expansion into the mountainous region of Ennet.4
Unfortunately, this territorial expansion resulted in bands of youths raiding neighbouring areas at the slightest provocation, and, in 1461, the Swiss citizenry ended its fifteen-year peace with Austria in order to begin its conquest of Thurgau.5 Mercenaries (Reisliiufer) became increasingly disreputable and dangerous signs of disintegration arose.
In rural communities, for example, foreigners of ill-repute6 were able to barter for Swiss citizenship.
The fourteen-year war (1436-50) between the original cantons (Urkantone) and Zurich concerning the inheritance of the
Count of Toggenburg7 had an especially demoralizing effect. Brother Klaus took part in this war as a flag-bearer, and he got as far as Hirzel and Thalwil.8
To his great sorrow, he witnessed the breaking of the agreements of the Sempach Letter that protected the civilian population and the Church.
The practice of the time of electing two or three popes simultaneously undermined the people’s trust in the authority of the Church,9 especially as dignitaries of the Church repeatedly excommunicated entire regions after the people became involved in political or otherwise worldly affairs. Parishes were then often without both a priest and a divine service for years at a time.
Brother Klaus’s home parish of Sachseln had been without a priest since 1417,10 which is why he had to be baptised in Kerns, a parish far from his home.
Thus, it is easy to understand that in such decadent times, the so-called secularist movement gained ground11 and people with a religious frame of mind felt increasingly on their own.
15 Brother Klaus was born in 1417 as the son of a respected citizen of Sachseln, Heinrich von Flue,12 and Klaus later stated that he had already had visions while still in the womb.
He told this to the person he trusted most and who was his directeur de conscience.
This was Heiny am Grund13 from Lucerne, who was Klaus’s father-confessor and the person who introduced him to the literature of the mystics of the time.14
Indeed, it is primarily thanks to Heiny am Grund that Niklaus von Flue was allowed to remain within the framework of the Church.
Brother Klaus once told a monk15 that he felt an extraordinarily great sense of awe towards the priesthood and that every time he saw a priest, it was as if he saw an angel of God, and it was primarily because of this that he felt great reverence for the most holy sacrament of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
He transferred this same reverence onto Heiny am Grund, who was suited to carry this inner image, but he chose to silently avoid other less agreeable clergymen.
Evidently, Brother Klaus projected an image of his own future personality, that is to say, the archetypal idea of the Self, of all-encompassing wholeness onto the person of this priest, which explains his idea of a priest being an angel-a messenger of the Deity. ~Marie-Louise von Franz, Niklaus von Flue and St. Perpeua A Psychological Interpretation of Their Visions, Page 9-11