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The Essential Carlstadt: Fifteen Tracts by Andreas Bodenstein (Carlstadt) from Karlstadt.

Carlstadt, a professor and sometime dean at the University of Wittenberg, was a comrade-in-arms with Luther during the early Reformation. Luther, instrumental in Carlstadt's conversion from Thomism to an Augustinian evangelicalism, shared the stage with him during the famous Leipzig debate with Eck. During Luther's protective custody at the Wartburg following the Diet of Worms, Carlstadt began to put in practice their reforming theories. The consequent iconoclasm and civil unrest initiated increasing tension between these two reformers which, among other factors, escalated to bitter exchanges and Carlstadt's expulsion from Electoral Saxony. Luther's acute but vehement tract against Carlstadt, entitled Against the Heavenly Prophets, in the Matter of Images and Sacraments, pinpoints the twin foci of Carlstadt's concern to free Christendom from all externalization. Hence Luther characterized Carlstadt as swallowing the Holy Spirit feathers and all.

In recent decades scholarship has been concerned with revising traditional histories of the Reformation by including the so-called minor reformers. Carlstadt has received a great deal of this attention, and is emerging from the spiritualist pigeon-hole assigned him by Luther. Carlstadt is now recognized as a pioneer of Puritan piety and later Pietism who influenced Anabaptism, radical reformers, and perhaps also Reformed perspectives stemming from Zurich. He also formulated what became the predominant Protestant memorial understanding of the Lord's Supper.

A number of Carlstadt's writings have appeared in full or partial English translation in various publications. As a contributor to these efforts, I appreciate both Furcha's accuracy and his reader-friendly translations of Carlstadt's often convoluted and repetitious style. These fifteen tracts out of Carlstadt's eighty-seven known writings were published in German between 1520 and 1534. They provide English readers access to Carlstadt's main theological themes and concerns: self-emptying and self-denial (Gelassenheit); use of Scripture; rejection of ritual externals; interiorization of faith; the nature of sin, love, Christology, and the Lord's Supper; and social responsibility for the poor. Carlstadt's polemics against Luther as well as his Apology with Luther's "Preface," written after Luther gave him shelter in the aftermath of the Peasants' War, are also included. Furcha provides a brief preface to each tract and an introduction to Carlstadt's life and significance. Furcha also provides historical and theological annotations to each tract. The volume includes name, place, scriptural and subject indices.

This will be a very useful volume for courses and seminars in Reformation studies both because Carlstadt's German is difficult for English speaking students and because the tracts themselves are not easily accessible. Unfortunately, perhaps due to limitation of space, Furcha missed an opportunity to introduce students more fully to the life, thought, and significance of Carlstadt. The introductory essay and prefaces are rather thin and at points questionable. Furcha presents Carlstadt as so "nonsectarian" and reasonably moderate that one wonders why there was so much fuss about him then, and why we should care now. The personal issues of pride and vanity which vexed Carlstadt, his views of magisterially forced reform which intrigued Muntzer, his biblical hermeneutics, his rejection of infant baptism, et al., are not brought out. To be sure, the tracts reveal some of these issues, but students would have benefitted from a more substantive introduction and extensive prefaces. The bibliography provides no indication of the wealth of Carlstadt studies. Nevertheless, I look forward to Furcha's promised second volume, containing Carlstadt's eucharistic tracts, with the hope it will provide more substantive commentary and bibliography.

CARTER LINDBERG School of Theology, Boston University
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Author:Lindberg, Carter
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1997
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