Bernd Christian Schneider. Ius Reformandi: Die Entwicklung eines Staatskirchenrechts von seinen AnfÖ¤ngen bis zum Ende des Alten Reiches. TÖ¼bingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001. xxii + 584 pp. EUR 69.00, ISBN 978-3-16-147665-5.
Reviewed by Mary Venables (Department of History, Yale University)
Published on H-German (August, 2004)
In Ius Reformandi Bernd Christian Schneider investigates a central privilege of early modern German rulers: their hard-fought right to control religious practice in their territories. The book, which is a revised version of Schneider's dissertation in evangelical theology at the University of Tübingen, traces the legal and theological foundations of secular responsibility for religious life from its beginning in the mid-fifteenth century to its waning in the mid-eighteenth century. Schneider is particularly concerned with ius reformandi (right of reform), which he defines as the "Recht der Obrigkeit selbst die Konfession zu wechseln und bald auch, diese den Untertanen zuzuweisen" (p. 6). He notes that while ius reformandi primarily granted Protestant rulers the freedom to choose a confession, it also gave Catholic rulers the ability to enforce religious uniformity in their territories. Schneider's emphasis, however, rests on Protestant attempts to establish the right to select a confession.
Ius reformandi, narrowly defined, is front and center in Schneider's work. The book is a biography of the legal concept. Schneider focuses on whether the right existed and, with the exception of a few case studies, spends proportionally little time on its implications or implementation. As a result the book suffers from a certain dryness. Lively questions (such as the fate of nuns in newly Protestant territories, married priests in territories that returned to Catholicism, or individual believers of either confession who fell afoul of the ruler's faith) disappear behind "the evangelical position," "the Catholic position," and articles of peace treaties.
Schneider considers ius reformandi to be an outcome of the Protestant Reformation, specifically the Treaty of Augsburg (1555), one with no precedent in late medieval church and imperial law. Since a choice of confessions did not exist in the German empire prior to the sixteenth century, neither did ius reformandi. Medieval privileges of patronage and protectorship (Patronat and Vogtei) involved rulers in church discipline, but princes could not reform the practice or teaching of faith (p. 48). Into the early years of the Protestant Reformation, princes had no right, theological or legal, to change confessions or to determine the confession of their subjects.
According to Schneider, calls for ius reformandi were also missing from the early years of the Protestant Reformation. Evangelical theologians argued that Christian princes shared in the universal Christian responsibility to improve the church but made no claims for specific rights for princes to choose a confession for themselves and their subjects. Luther, for example, gave worldly authorities a "Pflicht zur Reform der Kirche auf das Wort," but did not incorporate ius reformandi in his theology (p. 76). The push for a ius reformandi seems to have arisen more from political expediencies than from theological tenets. Since nothing in the legal code of the German empire foresaw that a prince could renounce his allegiance to the one faith, a prince's decision to carry out his Christian duty and reform the church challenged the legal structure of the empire. The ensuing debate over the existence of a theological right to change confessions and enforce confessional uniformity was essentially a debate over the legality of the new Protestant religion. Schneider argues that newly Protestant rulers sought to create ius reformandi as a strategy to avoid being placed under imperial ban. Without ius reformandi, Protestant princes were merely rebellious princes.
A ius reformandi for Protestant princes was only secured, and then in a piecemeal fashion, in the 1555 Peace of Augsburg. Schneider contends that since neither Protestants nor Catholics were particularly eager to negotiate or grant concessions, ius reformandi made a veiled appearance--aspects of the right were visible in articles 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 23, 24, 26, 27, and 28 of the treaty.
Schneider then chronicles the entrenchment of ius reformandi in the years between Augsburg (1555) and Westphalia (1648). Through pamphlets and case studies, he details how ius reformandi came to be accepted as an organizing principle of the empire. Because the Peace of Augsburg had not clearly defined the right, however, negotiations in Muenster and Osnabrueck returned to the issue. While the resulting peace treaty clarified many imprecisions in the Augsburg treaty (particularly the rights of imperial nobility and imperial cities), it also sidestepped some legal issues by setting a normal year.
The book concludes with a survey of ius reformandi after Westphalia. Regents still supervised religious life, but continued calls for toleration made it less likely that a regent would change his confession and take his subjects with him. Schneider presents the conversion of the Saxon Elector Friedrich August I to Catholicism as typical for the time: Friedrich August I became Catholic and assumed the Polish crown, but his German subjects remained Lutheran. In practice, if not in fact, ius reformandi died a gradual death at the hand of enlightened tolerance.
Throughout the book Schneider maintains a tight focus on German politics, which keeps him from considering the singularity of the German empire. Ius Reformandi is prefaced on the specificities of the German political organization (princes agitated for a ius reformandi to preserve their position in the empire), yet Schneider never addresses the subject directly. He does obliquely demonstrate the intense entanglement of religious and political questions, but he does not expand on the theme. Since Protestant German princes balanced their religious devotion against their political responsibilities in ways that other European rulers did not, it would have been worth pondering how the nature of the German empire helped to determine the nature of religious disputes in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
In addition to casting some light on the special nature of the German empire, Schneider's work also illumines subjects that are usually cursorily described. For instance, many students in European survey courses learn to identify the phrase cuius regio, eius et religio as a summary of the Peace of Augsburg. Schneider fills in the gaps and introduces the reader to Joachim Stephani, the author of the phrase (pp. 273, 312).
Few, however, will ever become acquainted with the originator of cuius regio, eius et religio. Schneider's book is not intended for a general audience. It provides a technical survey of a technical topic and is not a particularly easy or entertaining read. Frequent quotations in Latin and Greek require a good working knowledge of both languages or good dictionaries at hand. It might not hurt to have a copy of relevant peace treaties at hand as well, since Schneider often refers to articles in passing. What the book will not gain in an appreciative general public, however, it will enjoy among a limited audience of specialists. For students of negotiations in Augsburg or Muenster and Osnabrueck, or of the legal establishment of religious rights for German princes, this book will be a treasured find. The back blurb correctly states that the book "zeichnet einen weitgespannten und dennoch tiefgreifenden Überblick in die Entwicklung des ius reformandi." While few may feel the need for such an overview, it will be valued by those who do.
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Mary Venables. Review of Schneider, Bernd Christian, Ius Reformandi: Die Entwicklung eines Staatskirchenrechts von seinen AnfÖ¤ngen bis zum Ende des Alten Reiches.
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