Though actual historical figures feature in The Brothers Path, the novel is about the Schneebelis, “ordinary” people, whose beliefs are shaken and whose lives are threatened by the rapid, cataclysmic, changes.
But the Schneebelis were real — I can’t say more because it would spoil the story.
The Brothers’ Path, set in Affoltern am Albis, a Swiss village near Zürich, between 1524 and 1531 chronicles the lives of the six Schneebeli brothers, Heinrich, Hannes, Peter, Conrad, Thomann and Andreas. Each brother navigates his own path through, around or directly into the deadly drama of Huldrych Zwingli’s reformation.
Heinrich, the oldest brother, keeps the family mill going, fearing for the safety of his brothers and his children.
Hannes, the second brother, given as a child to the nearby Cistercian Abbey, falls in love.
The third brother, Peter, trades the trappings of military leadership for the robes of a Dominican.
Conrad, the fourth brother can no longer ignore the violent changes all around him when his livelihood is stolen.
Thomann, the fifth brother, flees to Strasbourg after the Diet of Speyer makes Anabaptism punishable by death.
The youngest, Andreas, is disappointed in love with tragic results.
The story climaxes on October 11, 1531 at the Second War of Kappel, a brief, ill-fated battle between Zwingli’s army of 2000 men and the 7000 troops of the Catholic cantons — a major turning point in the Zürich Reformation.
Excerpt: Andreas, January 1527
The long disputations had turned to exile, exile to incarceration. The incarceration had turned not to liberty, but to a street riot. Felix Manz had been taken from his cell in the Hexenturm, a prison in one of the towers on Zürich’s wall, to meet Zwingli, Jud and the magistrates one more time.
“Will you now forsake your foolishness and obey the law?” asked Zwingli.
“Whose law? The law of the City of Zürich? Or God’s law?” Manz asked. “When man’s law conflicts with God’s law, I follow God’s law. I will not renounce the true Christian baptism in good conscience and confessed faith, in union with God, the rightness of which you yourself have testified, Brother Zwingli. Children who have not yet come to understand the knowledge of good and evil, and have not eaten of the tree of knowledge, they are surely saved by the suffering of Christ unless it can be proved that Christ did not suffer for children. From Scripture we have concluded that infant baptism is a senseless, blasphemous abomination contrary to all Scripture. You have not disproved that yet, Brother Zwingli. Your response has only been to imprison and exile us. That is no argument. You will not silence me by putting me to death.”
Thomann whispered to Andreas, “Manz will be killed.”
“I am very sorry for you, Brother Felix,” said Zwingli as the guards pulled Manz forward and tied him up.
Manz was taken from the Rathaus. Crowds of Zürchers, those in support of Manz and his followers and those against him, surrounded Manz and his jailers, pressing against each other, shoving their way along the street beside the Limmat River.
Thomann saw Zwingli’s men going through the crowd, seeking information. Fear could turn the faithful faithless, and so it was happening this day, this moment. Many Brethren turned informers, pointing out their brothers and sisters, hoping from this to save their own lives. The dark extreme of faith’s ecstasy was dread’s misery. “What doth it booteth a man to gain his life but lose his soul?” in this desperate moment.
“Andreas, let’s get out of here,” said Thomann. “This…”
“Look around you! We will be trapped by those we thought were friends.” Thomann was grateful to be on the fringes of the crowd. He grabbed his brother’s arm. “Run, Andreas! RUN!”
Without thinking, Andreas ran, his feet slipping on the icy cobblestones.
“We must separate, brother. Meet me in the Ketzistürli.”
Each turned into a different narrow lane, both aiming for the gate on the other side of the river, the gate that led left to The Brothers and to their home.
Away from the Grossmünster, the streets were nearly empty. Behind them, now far away, the people of Zürich stood beside the river and yelled, “Baptize him!” forcing Zürich to write history in the river with Felix Manz’ life.
Andreas and Thomann reached the gate at the same time, much to Thomann’s relief. “Come, brother,” his breath white in the January air. “Zürich is no place to wait.”
“I am not coming with you. My place is here, with the others. If I run, I have no faith. I am no better than the informers in the crowd.”
“What? It is nothing like informing to get away, to save our lives, to preserve the Good News. What good are you dead or locked up in the Hexenturm? How will the truth endure if all who know it are silenced?”
“There’s something in that. But how do you know you are not just saving your hide under a pretty rationale?”
“I will not even answer that, Andreas. Come. Katarina will be waiting for you, worried for you.”
Andreas shook his head. “I must go back, Thomann. It is in my soul, my conscience, to join them and take whatever comes to them, to stand up for the truth.”
“Andreas, you’re about to be a father!”
The Brothers Path is a loose sequel to Savior; same family, three hundred years later.