‘The War of the Poor’ by Eric Vuillard – “You cannot serve both God and Money.”


‘The War of the Poor’ by Eric Vuillard   (2019) – 79 pages               Translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti


When someone writes a book propping up the kings, queens, and aristocracy of the past, we call that history. However if someone attempts to explain a major peasants’ revolt that occurred in the 16th century, then do we call that fiction? The German Peasants’ War of 1524 and 1525 was Europe’s largest and most widespread popular uprising prior to the French Revolution of 1789.

The German Peasants’ War was a revolt against both the aristocracy and the Catholic Church which through its doctrine and practices bolstered the aristocracy. The religious leader of this revolt was the German preacher and theologian Thomas Müntzer.

Why the God of the poor was so strangely always on the side of the rich, always with the rich. Why his words about giving up everything issued from the mouths of those who had taken everything.”

At first the Protestant reformer Martin Luther supported Müntzer, but when Müntzer’s sermons started to inflame the peasants into revolt Luther turned against him.

The Catholic Church services in the Middle Ages were in Latin which very few people in Europe could understand, and the Bible, untranslated, was also in Latin. In ‘The War of the Poor’ author Vuillard traces reformers like John Wycliffe who translated the Bible into English.

And as the icing on the cake, his most terrifying idea of all, he (Wycliffe) preached the equality of all human beings.”

Martin Luther translated the Bible into German.

When the sermons and the Bible became things ordinary people could understand, then religion became more personal and thus more susceptible to logic. The poor began to question the King’s and the Church’s authority over their wretched lives.

There are no fictional characters or events in ‘The War of the Poor’. Here is an example of why ‘The War of the Poor’ would be treated as fiction:

Thomas Müntzer must have blazed white-hot during those days. He must have gone off like a firecracker, bellowed his faith and brought to bear misery, rage, despair, and hope.”

This kind of colorful zippy conjecture would never do in the staid non-fiction world.

This book is a scant 79 pages. What there is of it is very good. I wish there were more. I would like to see a fuller depiction of the life of Thomas Müntzer. He seems to be a fascinating pivotal figure in European religious and social history.


Grade:    A-



9 responses to this post.

  1. Only 79 pages? I should line this up for Novellas in November!

    Liked by 1 person


  2. I enjoyed your review very much, particularly as I’m interested in this work. Wasn’t this a somewhat controversial choice for shortlist? Most works that bend or combine genres are usually controversial to someone!
    Muntzer and his times are fascinating, as you see the beginnings of so much that will shape the modern world. I’m all in favor of any work bringing that history alive.
    Afterthought: it’s interesting to see how a revolutionary figure like Luther adopted a conservative line and ultimately drew back from the forces he helped unleash.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Janakay,
      As i was reading ‘The War of the Poor’, I did some further research on Martin Luther. He was not at all in favor of the Peasants’ Revolt or helping the poor and he was extremely anti-Semitic. I was brought up as an Evangelical Lutheran and never knew any of this. I guess I sort of knew he was anti-Semitic but not to the extent he was.
      My mother tried to get us to church and Sunday school most Sundays, but my father rarely went to church. I haven’t been going to church at all for many years.
      Thomas Muntzer met the end of most revolutionaries, murdered at 36.

      Liked by 1 person


  3. I’ve got this too, so I scrolled down here without reading your review except to catch your grading of an A-.
    I’ve read some dismissive comments about it, so I’m pleased to see that I haven’t wasted my money!

    Liked by 1 person


  4. Posted by Diana Clarke on May 3, 2021 at 1:06 PM

    You may be interested in the movie Zwingli though I’m not sure how you will find it. Zwingli, a Swiss, was also attempting to reform the Catholic church.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Diana,
      The German movie ‘The Reformer. Zwingli: A Life’s Portrait’, formerly called ‘Zwingli’ and made in 2019, is listed on IMDB. I have encountered the name Zwingli before in regard to the Reformation. It’s strange that I had never encountered the name Thomas Müntzer before. I suppose he is intentionally left out of Lutheran texts.
      Thanks for the movie tip. That movie appears to be a good source for finding out more about the German Peasants’ War.



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