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Two Catechisms: Dialogue on Christian Doctrine and Christian Instruction for Children.

This volume reprints a fine English translation of two Spanish catechisms by the sixteenth-century converso reformer, Juan de Valdes. The Dialogo de doctrina cristiana, the more important of the two, was first printed in 1529, in the wake of several enormously popular Spanish translations of Erasmus's Enchiridion. Though the Dialogue was initially well received, by 1531 an impending Inquisitorial trial forced Valdes to flee to Italy, where he and his followers later practiced a form of Nicodemism. Jose Nieto, in a new historiographic essay on Valdes criticism from 1970 to 1990, attempts to defend the controversial thesis he originally put forward in his Juan de Valdes and the Origins of the Spanish and Italian Reformation (Geneva, Droz Press, 1970). Briefly, Nieto argues that the origins of Valdes's spirituality are to be found not in Erasmism (as Marcel Bataillon had contended), but in the native evangelical movement of the alumbrados or llluminists of Escalona. Nieto dismisses Valdes's reiterated tributes to Erasmus as a mask intended to conceal his allegiance to the alumbrados, who had been condemned as heretics in 1525. Nieto now finds himself fighting a battle on another front. In 1982 Carlos Gilly published "Juan de Valdes, traductor y adaptor de escritos de Lutero en su Dialogo de doctrina cristiana" (in Miscelanea de estudios hispanicos: Homenaje de los hispanistas de Suiza a Ramon Sugranyes de Franch), in which he reported that the dialogue contains substantial extracts from early texts by Luther. Nieto firmly denies the significance of these parallels, and continues to maintain the originality of Valdes's indigenous "typological" protestantism (68).

Nieto has made an important contribution - one Marcel Bataillon himself later accepted - in pointing out Illuminist influences on Valdes, but his insistence on minimizing the significance of Erasmian or Lutheran ideas is more difficult to accept. The currents of spiritual reform in early sixteenth-century Spain are so commingled that the search for monogenesis is an invitation to frustration - a frustration reflected in the contentious tone of Nieto's essay.

Turning to the dialogue itself, we find that the cornerstone of Valdes's spirituality is piety based on faith and charity, which takes precedence over the "accessory" ceremonies of the Church. The Sabbath is truly kept, not by refraining from "digging and sewing" but by striving more fully for Christian perfection (169); true fasting is "abstinence from sin and vice" rather than over-indulgence in expensive fish (200); true prayer is in the "ardent desire of the soul rather than clamor and profusion of words" (207); the Virgin is more honored by imitation of her humility and chastity than by having masses said to her; all Christians, even women and children, are encouraged to study the Epistles. The attitude toward the priesthood is both critical and conciliatory. Antronio, the mouthpiece for the unreformed clergy, is presented as ignorant and venial, but tractable and good intentioned. He vows to follow his interlocutors' recommendation to read Erasmus, but at fifty, admits he is too old to learn Latin. His friends nonetheless come up with an ingenious solution - he will spend half his income hiring an educated assistant! In short, the major elements of Erasmian anti-ceremonialism, interior devotion, scripturalism and the call for clerical reform are undeniable. Valdes does go farther than Erasmus had at that time in his disregard for the sacrament of confession; but whether Valdes's concept of the role of grace is radically different from Erasmus's is still open to debate. In the end, the interest of the text, and the importance of this sprightly translation, lies less in the debate over the authenticity of Valdes's Erasmism than in the way this dialogue captures a moment of intellectual cross-fertilization and poignant hopefulness, a moment when a young converso like Valdes could imagine the spiritual regeneration of an ignorant, fifty-year-old priest.

ALISON WEBER University of Virginia, Charlottesville
COPYRIGHT 1996 Renaissance Society of America
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Author:Weber, Alison
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1996
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