The Saint as a Counterrevolutionary: Some Depictions in the Historical Novel Stephana Schwertner by Enrica von Handel-Mazzetti

In the last few weeks, the Catholic Church has been faced with some grave assaults on the moral teaching of the Her Incarnate Divine Founder, Jesus Christ, as was in part disclosed in the public documents of the Synod of Bishops in Rome (5-19 October 2014). Each Catholic is now confronted with the question of how he should more deeply contribute to the defense of the truth, even if it requests to speak up, in justice, against the very hierarchy of the Church which was originally put in place for the defense of the Faith whole and entire. It is almost an unprecedented situation, in contradistinction to most of the Church’s adventurous and ever-challenging history. Facing the implicitly revolutionary dismissal of Christ’s irreformable teaching on sacramental marriage and the family, we ask ourselves how we, even in our smallness, can be (and may be) a witness to Christ’s truth. If properly done, we will thereby become even refreshing counterrevolutionaries.

A book that was published a little over a hundred years ago — and unfortunately it is available only in German — can help us in our historical situation and inspire us in discerning our proper response. The three-volume lengthy book is called Stephana Schwertner1 and is set in the Austrian town of Steyr to the northeast of Salzburg in Upper Austria on the Enns River not far from the Danube at Linz; and it takes place in the beginning part of the 17th century, the time of the Counter-Reformation after the Protestant Reformation and just before the outbreak of the gravely destructive Thirty-Years’ War (1618-1648).2 This historical novel was published within a similar historical context, that is, just before the outbreak of the First World War, itself the beginning of another Thirty Years’ War (1914-1945). The Catholic Austrian author, Enrica von Handel-Mazzetti, sets the scene of the story in such a way that the Catholics of the time are generally shown to be a weak and spiritually listless and also materially impoverished group of people who are losing ground and authority day by day.

1Enrica von Handel-Mazzetti, Stephana Schwertner (Kösel Verlag: Kempten and München, 1912-1914).

2We might remember that Alessandro Manzoni’s own classic 19th -century historical novel I Promessi Sposi The Betrothed – takes place in northern Italy during the middle part of the Thirty-Years’ War, just before and during the time of the terrible 1630 Plague in Milan, which was so consequential and so vividly depicted in Manzoni’s enduring work.

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