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Roman Popes and German Patriots: Antipapalism in the Politics of the German Humanist Movement from Gregor Heimburg to Martin Luther.

Humanist political opinion is not the sort of topic likely to spark much interest among the generation of young scholars working on the Reformation and Renaissance - those who work on documents "more congenial to fashionable causes and modern sensibilities," as Stadtwald puts it in his conclusion, rather than the often crassly anti-papal humanist political tracts he studies. Yet Stadtwald has made this topic come alive in his examination of the politics and anti-papal propaganda of the "Vienna circle" of humanists who gathered around Conrad Celtis, and of those who gravitated around Luther.

Stadtwald's success lies partly in his concentration on the immediate political circumstances surrounding the publishing or composition of particular works and in his concern for their broader influence among the German public. His nuanced tracing of long-term trends in German humanists' attitudes toward the papacy from the later middle ages through the Reformation makes the book of interest to students and scholars alike.

The chapter on Martin Luther (179-203) is intended to bring together all the threads of Stadtwald's material, which he argues led to and fed Luther's anti-papalism. One of Stadtwald's main objectives in writing this work was to explain Luther's anti-papalism as "a part of the tradition of anti-Romanism in the German humanist tradition stretching back at least as far as [Gregor] Heimburg" (198). For this argument to take, he must show that Luther was more profoundly influenced by humanist (political) thought than many recent Luther scholars have been willing to accept (e.g., Martin Brecht and Heiko Oberman). This he does only in part, because Luther may well have appropriated nationalistic, anti-curial devices and attitudes without having intended in any way to participate in patriotic (humanist) invective. When Luther wrote about the papacy, the "free spread of the gospel" was his main "political" objective. That his writings were to become increasingly political, especially when faced by imperial policy in the 1530s, does not on its own argue for more than borrowing: Luther was anxious more to defend evangelical freedom than to assert German autonomy vis-a-vis Rome - though he aligned them on more than one occasion for tactical reasons. And even if "humanists created the Rome Luther loved to hate" (196) by their political interpretation of personal experience, Luther had also seen the corruption of the Roman Curia for himself.

Stadtwald emphasizes two historical themes: the influence of "Pasquillus" and the myth of Barbarossa submitting to the humiliation of Pope Alexander III treading on his neck. A traditional type of political lampoon written under the cover-name Pasquillus (Italian Pasquino), the "pasquinade" was adopted by humanists at Rome and directed against the Curia and papacy. These squibs influenced German humanists and supplied material even for their vernacular pamphlets. The Barbarossa myth, which Stadtwald deftly shows must have been in the back of Luther's mind in his Address to the German Nobility (184), very appropriately haunts the book even as it haunted late-medieval and Reformation-era German political writing.

Stadtwald takes contemporary context seriously and accords almost as much attention to cultural as to political factors, though analysis of political circumstances is clearly his forte. One misses a more explicit discussion of contemporary national stereotypes as the background to German humanists' allergic reaction to Italian mores, and to Italian disdain of "barbarian" Latinists. This study sheds much light on humanist political ideas and activity from the age of conciliarism through the German Renaissance to the Reformation. Stadtwald argues persuasively that the tracts studied are an integral and important part of the sixteenth-century record of thought and action.

ANDREW COLIN GOW University of Alberta
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Author:Gow, Andrew Colin
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1998
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