Recultivating the Vineyard: The Reformation Agendas of Christianization.
The Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century.
By Hans J. Hillerbrand. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2007. xi + 504 pp. $50.00 paper.
German Histories in the Age of Reformations, 1400-1650. By Thomas A. Brady, Jr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. xviii + 477 pp. $95.00 cloth; $29.99 paper.
Geschichte der Reformation. By Thomas Kaufmann. Frankfurt am Main: Verlag der Weltreligionen, 2009. 954 pp. 48.00 [euro] cloth.
The field of Reformation Studies has been greatly enriched over the past couple years by the efforts of some of its leading scholars to produce new works of synthetic interpretation, four of which are under review in this essay. These works provide fresh perspectives on some of the perennial issues of Reformation scholarship: how to understand the relationship between the Reformation and the movements of late medieval renewal that preceded it; how best to relate the Reformation to the drive toward confessionalization that followed it; whether one should think in terms of a single Reformation or of multiple reformations, or some combination of both; how to weigh the influence of religious and non-religious factors on the origins, growth, and eventual shape of Reformation Christianity; and finally, how to liberate Reformation Studies from teleological interpretations of the past, while still showing its importance for the present.
In Recultivating the Vineyard, Scott H. Hendrix, Professor of Reformation History and Doctrine at Princeton Theological Seminary (now emeritus), seeks to distinguish the "forest" from the "trees" in recent Reformation scholarship (xvi). In order to provide readers with a macro view of the Reformation he borrows an image from the 1556 painting of Lucas Cranach the Younger entitled "The Vineyard of the Lord." Sixteenth-century reformers of all stripes, Hendrix argues, were united by a common goal of seeking to replant a more authentic version of Christianity in the soil of European culture. In other words, they were all interested in "Christianizing Christendom" (vii), although their agendas for achieving this goal contained important differences. The Reformation was thus "a missionary campaign that envisioned a renewed Christian society in Europe" (174). Hendrix acknowledges that this campaign was already underway in the Middle Ages and therefore writes, "the Reformation was not a new drama, but the second act of the same drama, the act in which the plot thickened and took an unexpected and unprecedented twist" (xx). This twist was confessionalization, which Hendrix insists "was not a separate age, but the last stage of installing new forms of Christendom into distinct cultures" (159). The Reformation developed these new forms and also took the first steps in implementing them. The concept of Christianization thus allows Hendrix to conceive of the Reformation as a single, unified event, even though he readily acknowledges that the Reformation contained various reformations, Protestant, Radical, and Catholic (xviii, 123). The concept also allows Hendrix to prevent the Reformation from being swallowed up either by the reforming efforts of the later Middle Ages or by the confessionalizing impulse of the later sixteenth century, even as he explores important similarities between these ages.
The body of the book examines the various agendas that the reformers developed to make Europe more Christian. Hendrix begins with a discussion of medieval efforts at Christianization, maintaining that while Europe was already Christian in terms of its ritual observance, many leaders of the church were nevertheless deeply concerned about the "superstitious" tendencies of the common folk. Humanists, "heretics" (like Jan Hus), and monks were all active in the pre-Reformation effort to stamp out pagan elements in Christendom. Hendrix especially emphasizes the efforts of the latter group--that is, the regular clergy--to effect deeper Christianization. The Observant movement of the later Middle Ages did much to establish the reform agenda not only of the pre-Reformation church, but also of its later Protestant competitors. One of the arguments of Recultivating the Vineyard is that monasticism played an unexpected role in the Christianization campaign of the Protestant and Radical reformations: Luther, Calvin, and Menno Simons may have rejected monastic vows and the like, but much of their theology, piety, and concern for authentic Christianity among all members of society may be traced back to the monastery (26, 90, 109-14).
Hendrix, a recognized authority on Martin Luther, dedicates an entire chapter to the Christianizing agenda of the Wittenberg reformer. Luther saw serious deficiencies in the medieval Christianization effort because, in his mind, it was based on human effort and external man-made ordinances. Hendrix maintains that Luther's central goal was to create what the reformer called "real Christians" (LW 36: 264), that is, people who had been freed from the law and human doctrine through the Word and faith, and who served their neighbors with a love that came from God. Against the rather stubborn tradition in Luther scholarship of positing a divide between doctrine and life in the reformer's theology, Hendrix argues convincingly for a necessary link in Luther's thought between faith and growth in Christ-likeness. Hendrix makes much of this link, especially in his discussion of the reformer's extremely popular devotional writings of the late 1510s and early 1520s. But Hendrix is also critical of the subsequent development of Luther's reforming agenda because of the inflated role that the Wittenberg professor accorded to himself as a kind of St. Paul redivivus. The Lutheran Hendrix accuses, "Luther's claim to exclusive authority over the movement was audacious, and it prevented in part the coalescence of evangelical growth into a unified movement" (54).
Hendrix is less critical of other Protestant reformers who possessed a similar sense of entitlement. His chapter on the reforming agenda of urban reformers like Ulrich Zwingli, Martin Bucer, and John Calvin, stresses that, similar to Luther, these theologians were engaged in a common effort to make Europe more Christian (70, 71), especially by preaching a Christianity in which faith necessarily issued forth in works (86). The Radicals were also interested in Christianization. Following recent scholarship, Hendrix maintains that the original Radical vision was to Christianize all of society, and in some cases this vision allowed for the use of force; the Radicals only retreated into gathered, pacifistic communities after the militant wings of their movement were defeated. What most clearly distinguished their reforming agenda from those of others was not pacificism or separatism, which were not native to it, but simply "their refusal to accept the limits on reform imposed by civil authorities" (100).
Sixteenth-century Catholic reformers developed their own Christianizing agenda. On the one hand they sought to combat the Protestant and Radical agendas, and on the other they endeavored to hasten and augment the Christianization efforts begun in the Middle Ages. To the pre-Reformation campaign against superstition were added greater theological uniformity and precision (although without any change of doctrine), a reassertion of papal authority, the Inquisition, the reform of the episcopate, the formation of new monastic orders (especially the Jesuits), the mission to the New World, and, especially, the reform of the clergy. Hendrix insists that the goal of the Catholic agenda was not simply to quicken Catholic religious life, as some scholars have argued: "Rather, it was a sustained effort to deepen the adherence of laypeople and clergy to the explicit teachings of the Christian faith and to conform their devotion to those teachings" (127).
In one sense, the sixteenth-century Christianization campaign failed, for it did not create the ideal Christians that the reformers envisioned, something Hendrix readily acknowledges in his final chapter. But in another sense it succeeded, for it created the structures within which the campaign could continue in its various confessional manifestations over the next couple centuries. Hendrix closes by noting that the sixteenth-century campaign has even provided motivation for Christianization beyond the borders of Europe-the reformers' mission has continued to the present day, although in ways the reformers never intended or imagined.
The Reformation-as-Christianization thesis breathes fresh life into Reformation Studies. Depicting the reformers as missionaries captures very well the essential dynamism and idealism of the Reformation; it also helps to make sense of the myriad sources in which the reformers construe their central task as taking the gospel to a public that in their eyes was only vaguely Christian and therefore constantly in danger of lapsing into paganism. The thesis invites Reformation scholars to borrow profitably from the work of missiologists like Andrew Walls, and thus to relate the study of the Age of Reform to the explosion of Christianity in the majority world today. And it makes a strong case for the Reformation as a distinct historical epoch. For these reasons Hendrix's work is to be warmly welcomed. However, there is a problem with the thesis: it runs the risk of unduly downplaying the crucial differences between Protestant and Radical Christianization campaigns, on the one hand, and the Catholic campaign, on the other. In other words, it risks presenting an inaccurate picture of the Reformation forest. Hendrix is aware of this problem (135), and he is certainly familiar with the confessional differences. Yet, while he is content to speak of replanting and recultivating in his book, he chooses not to employ a term for Protestant and Radical reforms that would have captured these differences and still depicted the Reformation as a missionary enterprise: re-Christianization. In earlier articles Hendrix adopts the term, (1) but in the preface to Recultivating the Vineyard he says that he has dropped it, without providing an explanation. Given that Protestant and Radical reformers considered so much in the Catholic agenda to be unchristian--and that Catholics replied in kind--referring to their agendas collectively as Christianization seems unwarranted, because it does not accurately convey how they understood their respective missionary undertakings. It is more appropriate to say that Protestant and Radical reformers were engaged in a mission of re-Christianization, Catholics in further Christianization. Still, Hendrix is right, all reformers saw themselves as missionaries of the Christian gospel.
In The Division of Christendom, Hans J. Hillerbrand, Professor of Religion at Duke University, provides a significant reworking of his earlier survey, Christendom Divided: The Protestant Reformation (New York: Corpus, 1971). Almost forty years of further study have caused Hillerbrand to change his mind about how best to interpret Christianity in sixteenth-century Europe. The result is a provocative, learned, and thorough analysis of the Reformation that is quite valuable for the student and scholar alike.
The book follows a traditional organizational scheme, beginning with a consideration of late medieval Christianity and moving on to examine the major reformers and the settings and distinctives of their various reformations. Within this traditional structure Hillerbrand analyzes any number of "hot topics" in Reformation Studies. For example, he provides a lucid treatment of the early evangelical pamphlets and their message, while later in the book he compares the course of the Reformation in German lands not only to France and Scotland, but also to Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.
Hillerbrand makes several large arguments in The Division of Christendom. He emphasizes the centrality of religion in the Reformation, although he insists that religion must not be reduced to university theology. Hillerbrand deals with Reformation theology, even dedicating an entire chapter to it, but for him theology is only part of sixteenth-century religion, and certainly not the most important part for the masses, who did not understand it (16, 403). Theology was important in so far as it touched the lives of spiritually earnest laypeople; it is their religious beliefs and practices that Hillerbrand insists were central to the shape and success of the Reformation. Hillerbrand also argues throughout for the indispensable role that politics played in shaping sixteenth-century Christianity. Early on he writes, "My own understanding is simply stated: The Reformation was a striking interplay of religious and political forces" (x). In order to examine this interplay, Hillerbrand provides engaging and detailed treatments of figures like Charles V and Henry VIII, among many others.
A third overarching argument of The Division of Christendom is that the Reformation was a distinct historical epoch. Although Hillerbrand is critical of the Reformation-as-Christianization thesis (65)--he argues that the reformers were not trying to create Christians but to move Christians to a more serious observance of their faith--he and Hendrix are in full agreement about the historiographical status of the Reformation. (2) The people who actively participated in the Reformation "perceived the happenings around them as novel, striking, indeed as revolutionary" (461). For Hillerbrand, this fact, along with the success of the reformers' conscious-raising campaign (see below), provides a compelling reason for saying that the Reformation stands apart from that which preceded and followed it. Not only is the Reformation historiographically significant and distinct, it is also best understood as a single coherent movement. Hillerbrand concedes that there were several reformations, each with its specific set of causes and circumstances (401), but he still wishes to speak of a singular Reformation whose "cohesiveness derived from the common determination to restore what was perceived to be biblical religion, and [to] do so in a striking relationship to the civil authorities"(x).
Clearly the most provocative argument of The Division of Christendom is the contention that the causes of the Reformation do not lie in the late medieval period, either in its alleged abuses and failings or in its efforts at reform. Hillerbrand places relatively little stock in the efforts of Berndt Hamm and others to draw thick lines of continuity between late medieval and Reformation efforts at spiritual and theological renewal. He especially wishes to deconstruct the traditional Protestant depiction of the Reformation as a necessary and inevitable response to the alleged myriad shortcomings of late medieval Christianity (65). This was a view that Hillerbrand himself had earlier championed: "To say, as I myself did many years ago, that the time before the Reformation was a powder keg with a lit fuse, invokes a neat metaphor but not an accurate appraisal of the time" (25). Throughout, Hillerbrand seeks to make a strong case for the utterly contingent nature of the Reformation.
One sees this anti-teleological concern in the opening chapter of the book. After surveying late medieval Christianity, Hillerbrand writes, "In sum, then, the picture of the church on the eve of the Reformation presents an intriguing mixture of tensions and tranquility. There were weaknesses, even abuses in the church; but even as the demand for reform was raised, many people were as loyal to the church and as pious as they had always been" (24). Late medieval Christianity was not in crisis, this is Hillerbrand's point; it could have continued on exactly as it was for some time. How does he then explain the origins of the Reformation? If its causes are not to be found in the later Middle Ages, then where are they to be sought? Who created the power keg? Who lit the fuse?
Especially during the Indulgence Controversy and in his writings of the early 1520s, the Wittenberg reformer persuaded his contemporaries that they were living in the midst of deep spiritual crisis. It would be at cross purposes with
Hillerbrand's goal in this book to return to the "Great Man" approach to history, as this is how earlier generations of Protestants depicted Luther, but Hillerbrand still concedes that "the historian of the Reformation must allow Luther, for a brief time, center stage" (28). Luther was not alone on the stage, not even in the late 1510s and early 1520s, but he was the most important actor. How were Luther and his fellow reformers able to create the illusion of crisis among their contemporaries? Through reliance on a "rhetoric of excess" (68). In other words, they greatly exaggerated both the weaknesses of the church and the alleged efficacy of the remedy that they offered, namely, the Word. The reformers were master communicators who made use of the latest technology--namely, the printing press--to create "a new mind-set" that saw in the Word a panacea for all of society's purported problems (69). The reformers engaged in an unprecedented and massive campaign to reshape "public consciousness," a key category in Hillerbrand's analysis. They achieved sufficient success in this endeavor among both burghers and ruling elites to enable their protest to become a popular movement.
People responded positively to this campaign for a number of reasons, both material and spiritual, but according to Hillerbrand the most important reason was sympathy for what was central to Luther's mission: "the recovery of true spirituality" (87). They found in the evangelical message "a persuasive interpretation of biblical religion" (89). Why did they find it persuasive? Here one encounters a problem in Hillerbrand's argument. To be consistent he should say that, in large part, Luther himself created the plausibility for the evangelical message through his rhetoric of excess. Hillerbrand makes this case, but he also says something more: he depicts late medieval Christianity as a religion of rules and evangelical Christianity as a religion of freedom, and then suggests many burghers preferred the religion with the fewer demands: "In truth, late medieval religion had come to be encumbered as a religion of works--pilgrimages, indulgences, and fasting--which encumbered the daily lives of the faithful with requirements, demands, and obligations. In contrast, the new understanding of the Christian message called for faith and freedom, as none other than Luther had enunciated in his tract on Christian Freedom in 1520. Of course, there is little doubt that a striking simplicity characterized the new message, and it may well be that men and women found this attractive" (183). When considered together with an earlier assertion that such Christian freedom is "a Christian commonplace" today (53), this statement sounds quite a bit like the traditional Protestant narrative, according to which the Reformation was a salutary and necessary remedy for the many failings of the pre-Reformation church. Of course, Hillerbrand does not state things this boldly, but, despite his stated anti-teleological concerns, he appears to allow for a real precondition for Protestant reform rather than one that was simply fabricated or exaggerated by Luther and others. Seen in this light, one could say that The Division of Christendom retains something of the Protestant spirit that infused Christendom Divided, although this spirit has certainly been disciplined and refined. (Hillerbrand's dismissive comments about medieval scholasticism may be seen in a similar light , as may his overly brief treatment of Catholic reform [chapter 9].) Still, there is a great deal to commend in this immensely learned and elegantly presented book; it is certainly a must-read for all serious students of the Reformation.
Similar to Hans Hillerbrand, Thomas A. Brady, Jr., is keenly interested in the relationship between religion and politics in the Reformation. In German Histories in the Age of Reformations, the emeritus Professor of History at Berkeley provides an extraordinarily learned account of how the political reforms of the German Lands shaped and limited the reform of religion in the late medieval and early modern periods. The product of some forty-five years of scholarly study and reflection, German Histories is a magnum opus composed by one of the deans of Reformation Studies. It spans almost three hundred years of German history and astonishes the reader with its depth of insight, command of information, and strength of argument. Brady has achieved something truly remarkable in this book.
The title is a play on Leopold von Ranke's German History in the Age of Reformation (1845-1847) (4n4). By opting for the plural Histories and Reformations, Brady wishes to stress that there was no single Germany in the period under consideration just as there was no single Reformation (4). In order to capture the political and religious history of the German lands accurately one must tell multiple narratives about multiple reformations, both religious and political. Brady can still use the term Reformation, but similar to Hendrix, he employs it to refer to the totality of religious reform in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He maintains that despite their many conflicts, these various religious reformations possessed an overarching coherence because they "shared a zeal for a more spiritual understanding of the Christian religion and a relative social, if not religious, equality of laity and clergy" (4). Brady's preference for the plural Histories and Reformations also indicates his desire to break what he calls the "Rankean spell" over German history (417-20). Ranke wished for a unified Germany with a unified and purified Christianity at its core. He thought that the Reformation had given birth to this hoped-for Germany, but that its development had been retarded by the settlements of 1555 and 1648, which allowed for multiple confessions in the German lands. Only in the modern age would the ideal Germany finally come into existence. Brady provides numerous examples of how a Rankean-inspired teleological vision of German history has shaped Reformation scholarship, especially in Germany (for example, Marxist-inspired treatments of the German Peasants' War). Although he tells an old-style grand narrative that interacts with Ranke and other German scholars throughout, Brady eschews Rankean and Rankean-like teleology at every turn.
German Histories is an attempt to explain how the German lands sought to recover politically and religiously from the crisis of the fourteenth century. Brady describes the book as "a drama in four parts" (9). Part 1, entitled "The Empire, the German Lands, and Their People," sets the stage for the narrative that follows by examining the topography, language, economy, politics, culture, learning, social stratification, piety (both official and popular), and ecclesiastical structures of the German lands prior to the Reformation. In part 2, "The Reform of the Empire and the Church, 14001520," Brady demonstrates how late medieval rulers successfully reformed the Empire's political life but failed to transform its religious life, the success and the failure being intimately interlinked. The key to the political success was the construction of a new polity in the Empire in which emperor and imperial estates shared power. Notions of an unopposed monarch ruling over a united empire gave way to the realities of heightened territorialization and the power of princes and magistrates in the German lands. As Brady explains, "The solution to the problem of weak, ineffective government lay in a double movement: on the one hand, the early transformation of the late medieval patrimonial principalities into institutionalized territorial states; on the other, a complementary growth of Imperial governance through the collaboration of emperor and Diet" (97). The development of permanent institutions of government that involved the princes and the leaders of the imperial cities played a central role in the political reform of the empire. These institutions, which emerged during the reign of Emperor Maximilian I, included the diet, a supreme court, administrative districts (circles), a scheme of taxation, and an imperial army. Brady concludes, "territorial dynasticism and imperial universalism were not opposed but complementary tendencies and motives. The Empire, a soul without a body, and the territorial principality, a body without a soul, formed a composite capable of life" (128).
The very nature of this political reform frustrated the reform of the church, for it caused the church and its leaders to become deeply enmeshed in the feudal power structures of the day. Bishops had far too much to lose by renouncing their positions of privilege and working for a more pastoral church. Again Brady: "For all practical purposes, therefore, the Imperial church remained the spiritual guise of a thoroughly feudalized fusion of temporal and spiritual governance. Until this fusion could be disaggregated, there could be no meaningful reform of the Church" (70). There was no one who possessed both the will and the ability to effect the badly needed reform of the Imperial church--not the emperor, who was continually distracted by concerns outside the German lands and who could not act unilaterally, in any case; not the popes, who were too weak and unpopular; and not conciliarists, whose movement enjoyed only fleeting success. The reform of the imperial church suffered for lack of an "agent" who possessed the requisite "agency" to disaggregate the late medieval fusion--these two terms are central to Brady's account of religious reform in the German lands (4, 69, 143, 262).
Once again, Luther is the agent, or rather, he is the one who supplied agency to some new agents--the princes--especially in To The Christian Nobility of the German Nation.
Brady explains, "In real German politics of his day, Luther discovered agents who could, and should, effect reform where pope and general council had not and the emperor would not. He conceived the German princes.., both as a corporate estate and part of the German Nation and later, when this failed, as mini-emperors responsible to God alone" (150). In keeping with his primary interest in politics, Brady asserts, "[Luther's] discovery of the princes as divinely approved rulers rather than mere vassals was his most radical innovation" (152). This radical innovation was based, in turn, on Luther's equally revolutionary soteriology and emphasis on the Word, which effectively separated the question of salvation from the issue of ecclesiastical authority (407)--the princes could ignore episcopal and papal threats of excommunication because their Word- and faith-based salvation was not in any way vulnerable to traditional ecclesiastical censure. Luther provided a solution to the problem of Imperial church reform that was uniquely suited to the political realities of the German lands.
In part 3, "Church, Reformations, and Empire," Brady shows how Luther and his fellow reformers discovered another group of agents to help reform the church--burghers. Although he does not speak of a rhetoric of excess that profoundly shaped public consciousness, Brady says much the same thing in his examination of the early evangelical propaganda campaign. Many townspeople were deeply influenced by Luther's polarizing rhetoric and they soon lent their support to the evangelical movement, profoundly shaping it for generations to come--they effectively 'burgherized' the Reformation (158). The Revolt of the Common Man soon put an end to the popular phase of the evangelical movement, ushering in a new emphasis on discipline and order. Brady then traces the narrative of the Reformation from the imperial diets of the 1520s up through the 1555 Peace of Augsburg, which signaled the demise of old idea of simultaneous reform of church and empire (232). Brady also examines the "Second Reformation" in the German lands, showing how Reformed Protestants were just as subject to temporal rulers as Lutherans were (253).
Part 4 of German Histories, "Confessions, Empire, and War, 1576-1650," discusses the development of Protestant confessions, demonstrating how they conformed to the realities of the imperial polity. Brady also considers Catholic reform, stressing its central role in the formation of "the old confessional order," which was characterized by an uneasy but workable convivencia (co-existence). Brady concludes by examining the Thirty Years War and the way it both brought the age of reformations to a close and gave new legitimation to the multi-confessional imperial polity. Brady insists that this polity, which proved remarkably stable, should be seen neither as a failed state nor as an obstacle that hindered Germany's transformation into a "modem" nation; it is simply the way the German lands evolved in the early modem period and this evolution has it own integrity. This final argument is part of Brady's career-long effort to historicize the Reformation, that is, to return it to its historical context (420), free of any teleological goals or transcendent interventions. (3)
Brady has rendered an invaluable service to the field of Reformation Studies by writing German Histories. Although his treatment of theology and piety is largely derivative, his masterful examination of the complex interplay between religion and politics in the German lands reveals his true genius as a historian. This book will be a standard in the field for many years to come.
The same will no doubt be true of Thomas Kaufmann's Geschiehte der Reformation (History of the Reformation). This book represents the efforts of one of Germany's leading church historians to provide an introduction to the Reformation for the non-specialist. It has many parallels with Hillerbrand's Division of Christendom. The University of G6ttingen Professor of Church History eschews the traditional Protestant narrative of the Reformation throughout, which is still quite strong in the popular imagination of Germans;4 he also follows a conventional organizational scheme and chronology--the narrative concludes with a discussion of the 1555 Peace of Augsburg. While Kaufmann pays greater attention to the preconditions of the Reformation than Hillerbrand, he is similarly cool toward scholarly efforts to locate the origins of the Reformation in late medieval movements of renewal (127): the Reformation marks an unprecedented rupture in the history of Latin Christendom (718) and forms the distinctive first part of a two-part period, the early modem epoch (24). (The second part is the Confessional Age). Also similar to Hillerbrand, Kaufinann deals extensively with the crucial role of mass media in the transmission and spread of the early evangelical movement.
There are important parallels with Brady, too, especially in Kaufmann's treatment of the social and political preconditions of the Reformation (ch. 1) and in his remarks on the formation of "das alte Reich" (701). But while Brady's approach to the Reformation is political and religious, Kaufmann's is decidedly church-historical; he spends far more time on theology and piety than Brady and is far more original in his discussion of them; Kaufmann also relates the Reformation primarily to developments within Latin Christendom rather than to the political evolution of the Empire and rest of Europe. Similar to all three North American scholars, Kaufmann acknowledges the existence of multiple reformations, but still wishes to speak of a single Reformation that was a composite of the particular reformations that splintered western Christendom (26 27, 32).
Geschichte der Reformation is divided into three parts: "The Preconditions of the Reformation," "The Reformation in the Empire (1517-1530)," and "The Irrevocability of the Reformation (1530-1555)"; part 2 is by far the longest. Kaufmann's command of the relevant sources and secondary literature is impressive, as is the breadth and depth of his analysis. While much of the ground he covers is well known to the specialist, his exploration of this ground is sprinkled with fresh insights and arguments. For example, Kaufmann argues convincingly that the publication of the Ninety-Five Theses marked a decisive and deliberate turning point in Luther's life and that one is therefore justified in attaching a special strategic value to this work; the Wittenberg professor was not simply looking to engage in routine academic debate when he wrote and publicized his ideas on indulgences (183 89).
Viewed from the perspective of recent German church-historical scholarship on the Reformation, certainly the most provocative aspect of Kaufmann's book is his decision to treat Luther's early years in the monastery and university lecture hall as a precondition of the Reformation rather than as the beginning of the Reformation--the reader first encounters the Saxon monk in part 1 (chapter 4), not in part 2. For Kaufmann, there is nothing 'Reformational' about Luther's personal, spiritual, and theological development prior to late 1517 or early 1518, although he concedes that the Wittenberg professor was already moving in potentially radical directions in his early lectures (12627). This understanding of the early Luther is based on Kaufmann's definition of the Reformation as "a process of reshaping or re-forming the life of the church" (Umgestaltungsprozesse des Kirchenwesens) (22). The Reformation did not begin until Luther and others started to question, criticize, and seek to change the existing church in a public manner and with popular support. The movement that permanently changed both the German lands and Latin Christendom began not with Luther's "Reformation Breakthrough," the dating of which Kaufmann argues is peripheral to the issue of Reformation origins, but with Luther's public assault on the church in the Indulgence Controversy (149-50). By the close of this controversy Luther the spumed lover of the church had concluded that the object of his deep affection was beyond reformation (287)--a new start had to be made, a Reformation (289). Kaufmann traces the subsequent shape and splintering of the Reformation in the rest of the book.
Kaufmann's treatment of the Reformation in Germany is masterful and engaging. His decoupling of Reformation origins from Luther's supposed "tower experience" is a helpful corrective to the traditional Protestant narrative. Luther is still important in Kaufmann's story (as are various preconditions of Reform), but the Wittenberg professor is not the German Hero who single-handedly delivers his contemporaries from the alleged darkness of papal religion through the resolution of his purportedly unique spiritual crisis. So there is a great deal to praise in this volume. However, from a North American point of view there is a glaring problem in Kaufmann's otherwise excellent book: the title claims too much. Geschichte der Reformation focuses almost exclusively on the German lands and yet purports to examine the Reformation. Even if one accepts Kaufmann's argument about the importance of events in the German lands for the reformations in other parts of Europe (712), and even if one acknowledges that the book is written by a German for Germans, and that Germans typically refer to the Reformation in Germany as the Reformation--even if one concedes all of this, the addition of the qualifier in Deutschland (in Germany) is still necessary. Especially in a work designed for a more general readership, it is important to acknowledge that the Reformation in Germany, while foundational for the European Reformation in many respects, was finally but one expression of this larger Reformation. Kaufmann's title--which he may not have chosen--would never work in an English-speaking market; it should not work in the German-speaking one either.
Ronald K. Rittgers
(1) Scott H. Hendrix, "Rerooting the Faith: The Reformation as Re-Christianization," Church History 69, no. 3 (September 2000): 558-77; Scott H. Hendfix, "Rerooting the Faith: The Coherence and Significance of the Reformation," The Princeton Seminary Bulletin N.S. 21, no. 1 (2000): 63-80.
(2) See Hans J. Hillerbrand, "Was there a Reformation in the Sixteenth Century?" Church History 72, no. 3 (September 2003): 525-52.
(3) See Thomas A. Brady, Jr., '"The Social History of the Reformation' between 'Romantic Idealism' and 'Sociologism': A Reply [to Bernd Moeller]," in Stadtbiirgertum und Adel in der Reformation: Studien zur Sozialgeschichte der Reformation in England und Deutschland, ed. W. J. Mommsen (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1979), 40-43.
(4) See Thomas Kaufmann, Konfession und Kultur: Lutherischer Protestantismus in der zweiten Halfte des Reformationsjahrhunderts (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006), 5.
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|Title Annotation:||'The Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century,' 'German Histories in the Age of Reformations, 1400-1650' and 'Geschichte der Reformation'|
|Author:||Rittgers, Ronald K.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2011|
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