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Revelation and Revolution: Basic Writings of Thomas Muntzer.

From a variety of perspectives Michael G. Baylor's new collection of the basic writings of Thomas Muntzer is a most welcome publication. Given the difficulty of Muntzer's German and some of the uncertainties of the text upon which Peter Matheson largely based his 1989 Collected Works of Thomas Muntzer, research scholars will benefit from this alternate translation of Muntzer's most important works.

From a broader perspective, however, as Baylor's introduction makes clear, students and teachers alike can benefit from direct interaction with the thought of Thomas Muntzer. Despite the accumulating research into the varieties of radical reform, the fact remains that at the general teaching level, Muntzer is largely depicted as his enemies saw him. Baylor's selections and the important contextualizations in the introduction instead give us the logic of the interconnections between theological and political radicalism, and new emphases on Muntzer's pastoral concerns, his mystical asceticism, the rationality of his attacks on superstition, and his liturgical contributions.

Three key texts, "The Prague Protest," "Sermon to the Princes" and the "Highly Provoked Defense" have appeared before in Baylor's useful reader on The Radical Reformation (1991). But their centrality to any interpretation of Muntzer, and their fit with the other texts presented here - suggesting as they do the consistency as well as the evolution in Muntzer's thought - justify their inclusion here. Appreciating the linkages between ritual and the nature of community, historians have been paying more attention lately to the importance of liturgy and thus the "Selected Liturgical Writings" are particularly useful.

Baylor identifies the "Special Exposure of False Faith" as Muntzer's "magnum opus." It is paired here with the "Highly Provoked Defense." Taken together with "On Contrived Faith" from the short tracts of 1523, these works form the essence of Muntzer's critique of Luther and what Baylor terms the "mandarin theologians." These texts provide a crucially necessary balance against the still strong tendencies toward a Luther-centered interpretation of the Reformation. Revelation emerges as the radical epistemological principle to challenge the conservatism of Luther's "sola scriptura."

In the collection of "Selected Letters" the varying shades of Muntzer's philosophical and personal asceticism emerge along with a much more nuanced picture of his revolutionary goals and actual role in the Peasants' Revolt. These texts, together with Baylor's introductory gloss, underscore the problems with the largely "retrospective" interpretation of Muntzer as "blood thirsty revolutionary."

Baylor concludes with "Last Words," three texts from Muntzer's final days, comprising Muntzer's confession under interrogation and torture, a retraction of his revolutionary views and a final letter addressed to the people of Mulhausen where Muntzer was beheaded.

Overall, Baylor's introduction does a fine job of providing a context for the documents by characterizing the setting in Allstedt where Muntzer was most active as a religious reformer. The notes, chronology of Muntzer's life, bibliography of Muntzer editions and recent literature, and index to biblical references all make Revelation and Revolution of interest not only to Muntzer students and scholars but to a wide range of readers. Baylor's edition makes clear the centrality of the issues raised by Muntzer's thought particularly as it pertains to the nature of religious authority. To read Muntzer as a counterpoint to Luther and to see Muntzer's Allstedt as an independent center of evangelical reform can only underscore for us the links between epistemological and political conservatism and the profoundly conservative heritage of the magisterial reformation.

ANN W. RAMSEY University of Texas, Austin
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Ramsey, Ann W.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1996
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