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Cornelius Henrici Hoen (Honius) and his Epistle on the Eucharist (1525): Medieval Heresy, Erasmian Humanism, and Reform in the Early Sixteenth-Century Low Countries.

Bart Jan Spruyt. Cornelius Henrici Hoen (Honius) and his Epistle on the Eucharist (1525): Medieval Heresy, Erasmian Humanism, and Reform in the Early Sixteenth-Century Low Countries.

Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions 119. Leiden: Brill, 2006. xiv + 296 pp. index. bibl. $155. ISBN: 978-90-04-15464-3.

Based on a doctoral dissertation defended at the University of Leiden in 1996, this book discusses the Epistola Christiana, one of the main sources of reformed doctrine on the Eucharist. Its author, Cornelis Hendricxz. Hoen (Cornelius Henrici Honius), was born in The Hague around 1440 and died in the same city during the winter of 1524/25. Spruyt addresses the fortuna critica of Hoen's pamphlet first, and shows how it was appropriated by later church historians of various ecclesiastical denominations. The second chapter looks at the reformer's life and the historical setting, while the content and sources of Hoen's treatise are discussed in the following chapter. Spruyt traces the influence of Luther and Erasmus, questions Hoen's dependence on Wessel Gansfort, and discusses the medieval heretical elements in his argumentation. The final chapter deals with the impact of Hoen's Epistola, as propagated by his friend Hinne Rode in Germany and Switzerland, and appearing in two Latin and three German editions in two years (1525-26). An edition of the Latin text, as well as a transcription of a contemporary German translation, close the book.

A Dutch publication by the same author on the same topic appeared in 1997 under the title Ketter aan het binnenhof: Cornelis Hoen en zijn tractaat tegen de transubstantiatieleer (1525). Surprisingly enough, Spruyt omits this publication from his bibliography. This vastly expanded English version is of interest to scholars of the early Reformation, as it provides an account of the dissenting circles in the Low Countries (and their international contacts), and traces the origins and development of the reformed doctrine on the Lord's Supper. Spruyt has also unearthed some new biographical information, especially concerning Hoen's prosecution on suspicion of Lutheran sympathies.

This book will nevertheless fail to appeal to a broader audience because the author does not succeed to present in a clear and readable manner the scanty biographical information on Hoen including the legal details of his trial, nor the complex web of recurring arguments in the debate on the Eucharist and the complicated publication history of the treatise. The basic problem is the structure of the book. Since Spruyt opens with a discussion of the fortuna critica of Hoen and his teachings, constant references are made to facts and ideas which are unknown to the reader new to this topic, and which are only explained later. This could have been avoided by addressing the question at the conclusion of the book, as Spruyt did in the aforementioned Dutch publication. The biography in the second chapter would likewise have benefited from a chronological treatment of all known facts about Hoen, which now get lost in the midst of more circumstantial information (for instance on the Delft-The Hague circle of dissenters). A better structure might also have prevented some repetitions, such as the story of Hinne Rode's propagation of the pamphlet, which is discussed in chapters 1, 3, and 4.

Considering the fact that Spruyt decided to include a new edition of the Latin text, it is regrettable that he does not offer an English translation as well. His reconstruction of the printing history of the text is disordered and refers annoyingly to the original publications with different sigla than the ones found in the subsequent edition. He also neglects to offer full bibliographic-analytical descriptions of his sources. It is similarly regrettable that the author did not make a critical edition of the three contemporary translations, but limited himself to a transcription of one. A critical edition of all relevant texts, with a more satisfactory discussion of their publication history, would have increased the value of this book considerably.

Finally, an extra editorial revision might have prevented inconsistencies in the use of vernacular terms, such as "the Grand Council at Malines" (56), "the Great Court of Malines" (68), "the Grand Council of Mechelen" (78), and "the Grand Council of Malines" (79). An even graver inconsistency is the treatment of sources: Dutch texts are generally translated without quotation of the original, while Latin and German sources are sometimes, but not always, translated with the original sometimes, but not always, quoted in footnote. A telling example is pages 120-22, where we find the following: a Latin passage without translation, an English translation of a passage in German (without the original in footnote), and an English translation of a Latin source (with the original in footnote, which should read "donec" instead of "doned").

In sum, although Bart Jan Spruyt has in the past been able to engage his readers effectively with the complex world of the early Reformation, he fails to repeat the same in this book.


Francqui Foundation Fellow of the B. A. E. F., Harvard University
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Author:Verbeke, Demmy
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2007
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