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Calvinism in Europe: 1540-1620.

The good news is that historical scholarship on European Calvinism, including its notorious penchant for rigorous discipline, is flourishing as rarely before. The bad news is that international scholarship on the Calvinist elect remains as fragmented and disconnected as the various Reformed churches of four centuries ago. John T. McNeill's 1954 History and Character of Calvinism seems more outdated than ever, but no successor has yet appeared.

The relationship between Pettegree and Mentzer's books seems obvious. Each one is a kind of sequel: the first is a direct outgrowth of an international conference held at Oxford in 1992, and forms a delayed introduction to the collection of documents on Calvinism in Europe, 1540-1610 published by the same three editors (in different name order, by Manchester University Press) in 1992; the second is an ad hoc collection on what is currently the most intensively studied aspect of sixteenth-century Reformed Protestantism, and offers a more specialized sequel to the miscellany of Calviniana published six years ago as Volume 10 of the same American series. What most visibly unites the two titles under review is the shared presence, directly following an introductory essay, of a contribution from Robert M. Kingdon.

Kingdon's ubiquity derives from his forthcoming scholarly edition of the earliest Genevan Registres du Consistoire, a project which promises to provide our most important missing piece of essential information about how Calvin tried to implement his version of "reformation." Kingdon's essay in the Cambridge volume - which is a progress report on his project, begun in 1987, to transcribe the original records of the first Calvinist Consistory - would form an ideal introduction to the Missouri volume; but the latter's contribution from Kingdon is now doubly superfluous, both because it was previously published and because it has already been superseded in revised form by Kingdon's recent Adultery and Divorce in Calvin's Geneva (Harvard University Press, 1995).

Although Calvin's theology was obviously fundamental throughout the Reformed tradition, the experiences of Geneva were never normative for Reformed churches elsewhere in Europe. Nowhere else did the Reformed church maintain such a firm confessional grip and such autonomy within an urban republic. To a considerable degree, the fragmentation of current scholarship on sixteenth-century Calvinism faithfully reflects the variety of social and political circumstances within which Reformed churches actually operated in sixteenth-century Christendom. As Alastair Duke notes in the first sentences of the Cambridge volume, Calvinism affected every part of Europe except Scandinavia and Braudel's Mediterranean. But its confessional record was extremely uneven. The two largest regions in which the Reformed church became officially established before 1600 were the Kingdom of Scotland and the republic of the United Netherlands. Both politically and socially, feudal Scotland and the heavily-urbanized Netherlands were utter opposites. In Calvin's native France, the Reformed church had already lost its momentum when Calvin died in 1564 and struggled desperately for survival. In Erasmian England it remained a powerful although unofficial movement within the established confession. In the Empire, it acquired one of the four lay Electorates in 1568, but very few smaller principalities followed its lead. In eastern Europe, it was tolerated almost everywhere but nowhere dominant.

Not everything was diverse within Calvinism; the various Reformed churches, notes Duke in his introductory paragraph, exhibited "a marked sense of confessional solidarity." One of their most significant common features was a tendency to regard ecclesiastical discipline as a third mark of the true church, beyond Luther's emphasis on correct preaching of the Word of God and correct administration of the sacraments. Although Calvin himself never went this far, at least three Reformed confessions (in Scotland, Hungary, and the Netherlands) did so as early as 1560-62 (Duke, 3 n. 9). A generation later, a leading Scots theologian coined a lapidary formula: "Certain it was, that without sum discipline, na Kirk" (Mentzer, 159). And the major value of the Missouri volume lies in this shared focus on Calvinist discipline, especially in two pairs of interlocking essays forming its last four chapters. In each case, a remarkable in-depth study of an individual town (Philippe Chareyre on Nimes, Geoffrey Parker on St. Andrews) is complemented by a "national" essay (Mentzer on French excommunications, Michael Graham on the earliest Scottish Kirk sessions and Presbyteries). When combined, these paired clusters portray a fascinating contrast between the earliest disciplinary efforts of French and Scottish elders - neither of which, incidentally, resembles the original preoccupations of Genevan elders. Unfortunately, the Dutch and German contrast remains in shadow, since the thorough study by Heinz Schilling forming its second chapter concerns marriage policy rather than consistorial discipline in general.

Although it lacks such thematic cohesion, the Cambridge volume nevertheless offers two exceptionally rich and instructive comparisons within the history of Calvinism. My personal favorite is the remarkable contrast provided by two histories of Calvinism in rural regions: Mark Greengrass's study of its failure to set down deep roots in Jeanne d'Albret's sovereign principality of Bearn (119-42), and Jane Dawson's argument for its implausible early successes in the Scottish Highlands (231-53). The other comparison is contained within a single article. Francis Higman's study of sixteenth-century translations of works by Calvin into various European vernaculars, excluding French (82-99), contains two statistical surprises: translations into Italian slightly outnumbered translations into Dutch; and the 91 translations into English accounted for over half of the entire European total. The inverse correlation between official adoption of the Reformed faith and vernacular translations raises troubling questions about Calvin's lay audience, especially among women. Although Duke's introduction provides useful comments on significant general aspects of sixteenth-century Calvinism, reminding us that "politicization proved irresistible" (8) and claiming that Calvinism's genuine radicalism lay in the thoroughness of its attack on "superstitions" of all kinds (18-19), many other contributions to the 1992 Oxford conference seem less noteworthy.

Neither volume offers an agenda for future scholarship on European Calvinism, on how we might best rewrite McNeill's synthesis for the next century's readers. Other problems invisible in both books may well attract the attention of scholars in the near future. In an age of migrant scholars, Renaissance Latin, and revived scholasticism, the interlocked histories of the greatest universities of Reformed Europe - new Geneva, renewed Heidelberg, and new Leiden - deserve a fresh look that includes examining Eucharistic doctrines across Reformed Europe. We should also reexamine the rapid failure of the French Reformation in the 1560s. Any research agenda on Calvinism must still start in Geneva, using such improved guides as William Bouwsma's 1988 portrait of Calvin, the far-advanced edition of Theodore Beza's correspondence, and soon, the records of the early Consistory.

WILLIAM MONTER Northwestern University
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Author:Monter, William
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1997
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