Reviewed by David M. Whitford (United Theological Seminary )
Published on H-German (February, 2010)
Commissioned by Eve M. Duffy
Lutheranism in a Confessional Age
The confessionalization thesis has done much to help move the focus of Reformation historians from the first three decades of the sixteenth century to the era between the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 and the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. As their focus has shifted, scholars have paid less attention paid to the "Great Reformer of Wittenberg" and other religious figures. What Robert Kolb and the authors in this book have noticed, however, is that for all the new focus on the later era and the close connection between religious identity and state-building in the confessionalization thesis, relatively little attention has been paid to actual ecclesiastical life and culture. Disregard for this era in and outside of church history is not a new phenomenon. It has long suffered from the neglect of both secular and church historians, who often refer to it as the era of Protestant scholasticism. This description was not meant as an accolade. And yet, it is an era of fascinating and vibrant ecclesiastical life. It is one thing to call for reform and play the role of Joshua at Jericho. It is another thing entirely to rebuild the structures of the church and church life once the trumpets have brought the previous edifice down. Robert Kolb's introduction to this helpful collection makes the point that the era encompassed within this book is worth studying. The essays that follow confirm it.
Irene Dingel opens the book with its finest essay. Carefully and with great clarity, Dingel unfolds for the reader the controversies in which Lutheranism became embroiled after the death of Martin Luther in 1546. Within months of Luther's death, the military destruction of the Schmalkaldic League and the imposed Interim that followed fostered a major theological crisis within Luther's fledgling community. The crisis pitted colleague and friend of Luther against colleague and friend of Luther and former student against former student. The literature was vociferous and voluminous. It was, however, merely the first debate. Others on the nature of grace, the form of justification, and even the ontological implications of original sin plagued the Lutheran movement. Dingle helpfully steers her reader through the history of each crisis.
In the next essay, Kenneth Appold discusses the role of education and university culture. He is forced, more directly than others in the book, to deal directly with the "Protestant scholasticism" issue. University professors of this era, after all, are the ones always blamed for its excesses. Appold begins with a helpful introduction and summary of university life in the late medieval and early modern world. He thus shows the reader that the Protestant university did not spring to life fully formed but rather emerged from an established tradition. He then walks the reader chronologically through the Reformation and post-Reformation. He helpfully explains some rather technical terms along the way. Finally, he turns to perhaps the most important question regarding academic life in the age of confessionalization: the degree to which university teachers helped advance or were victims of state control. His essays assumes a nicely nuanced middle ground between the potential hyperbolic alternatives.
In 1964, Gerhard Ebeling described Martin Luther and the Reformation that Luther engendered as a Sprachereignis. The center of that "language event" was preaching. In the third chapter, Mary Jane Haemig and Kolb explore together the life and impact of preaching after Luther. As with the earlier essays, this contribution works systematically through the subject at hand. The reader is supplied with a brief explanation of the concerns of medieval preaching, the transformation of the role of preaching during the Reformation, the place of preaching within worship following the Reformation, and Lutheran attempts to ensure quality preaching through education and example.
The next three essays build upon the foundation established by Haemig and Kolb, each in its own way, to examine worship life and faith formation from different perspectives. Gerhard Bode examines the use of catechisms in worship and family life as modes of instruction, correction, and religious enculturation. Christopher Brown examines similar themes but focuses on hymns, liturgies, music, and prayer. Finally, Robert Christman brings the discussion full circle by asking about the relative success or failure of this ecclesiastical endeavor to affect popular piety and religious conviction.
Susan Boettcher of the University of Texas then moves the thematic examination of the previous chapters outside of the churches and into the broader social world. The social impact of the Reformation has been a contentious and much-debated arena of study for the last forty years. Boettcher begins by charting this history and the pitfalls that await anyone who dares enter this debate. Undeterred by her own warning, and like Appold earlier, Boettcher provides a nuanced story of gradual yet significant social change in Reformation lands. She avoids the shoals on either side of the argument that would have us see the Reformation as either a teleological, even eschatological, success in the social realm on the one hand or a complete, ineffective failure on the other.
The final chapter in the thematic section of the book deals with one of the most fundamental aspects of the age of confessionalization--the relationship between the church and the state. Robert von Friedeburg of the University of Rotterdam offers an essay that represents the depth of learning the scholarly community has come to expect of him. It exhibits many of the qualities of a certain strand of scholarship--an especially close attention to minute details, a mastery of highly technical terminology, and an ample inclusion of excursus. For the scholar who has immersed him- or herself in the literature on this topic this article provides a peregrination through early modern conceptualizations of church and state. Readers less familiar with this topic may feel as if they have entered a conversation in mid-stream.
In the final section, Eric Lund and David Daniel significantly expand the geographical frontiers under investigation. Lund looks at Lutheranism and ecclesiastical culture in Scandinavia and the Baltic. While this history has been well known and documented in the ethnic enclaves of American Lutheranism, it has not been broadly disseminated. Daniel takes the discussion to Hungary, a country that has just as rich a history but which is even less well known or explored. Both essays help ameliorate the obscurity under which these topics have suffered and help chart future avenues of investigation.
In many ways, Robert Kolb serves as the unofficial dean of Luther studies in the United States. His contributions to our understanding of Lutherans after Luther are many and varied. Both he and Brill are to be thanked for bringing into one place such a fine collection of essays and topics.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-german.
David M. Whitford. Review of Kolb, Robert, ed., Lutheran Ecclesiastical Culture, 1550-1675.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
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