Reviewed by Judith Becker (Institut für Europäische Geschichte, Mainz)
Published on H-German (April, 2006)
Insights into the Newest Research on Reformation History
This volume gives an overview of current discussions and popular topics in Reformation research and points out new research fields or ideas likely to be discussed increasingly over the next years. It assembles cutting-edge modern Reformation research. The editor has assembled twenty-nine specialists who represent differing approaches. Some of the authors are well established, while others are younger scholars--a mixture which makes the project even more interesting. All of them are well-known experts in their fields.
Despite the variety of topics, authors and approaches, the volume is very homogeneous. It reads like a monograph and does not suffer from the problems that plague so many other collections of essays. Some inconsistencies in the apparatus (four chapters have footnotes, while the others cite literature within the text) do not abate the value of the volume, although they are surprising in an otherwise so uniform collection. Every chapter includes a bibliography as well as suggestions for further reading. At the end of the volume, there is a consolidated bibliography. Thus, the volume will be very helpful for students as a starting point for their own research.
The volume's intended audience includes scholars, students and general readers interested in the Reformation. This is a very broad target group, and it is not easy to meet everyone's needs and expectations. Presumably, the volume will be most interesting for general readers or students with a limited knowledge of Reformation history who want to immerse themselves in the world of the Reformation. Specialists will not find much new content. On the other hand, even scholars of the Reformation will not be familiar with every topic discussed in this volume. Moreover, many chapters are very well written and intriguing in their presentation, even on topics that will already be familiar to many scholars.
The volume is organized in six parts that cover the late Middle Ages to the eighteenth century; the main focus falls on the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The arrangement is partly geographical (the Holy Roman Empire, the rest of Europe) and partly thematic (Catholic renewal, structures of the Reformation). A section on "Christian Europe and the World" about Catholic missionaries in Latin America and Asia adds an interesting facet to the volume (and is, in fact, one of the editor's special interests). Yet, the volume lacks a section on printing/publishing or the arts--two topics that are important and frequently discussed in current research.
The book's first section deals with religion and society on the eve of the Reformation. Euan Cameron presents heretical movements of the late middle ages and puts them in relation to the Reformation. He also describes common attitudes and similarities in conduct between the different movements. Larissa Taylor points to regional and national differences in popular piety that preceded the Reformation and may have been one reason for the different forms of Reformation. She explicitly challenges the view that the late Middle Ages were decadent.
Part 2 assembles four chapters on the Reformation in the Holy Roman Empire. Robert Kolb describes Luther's life and theology and its development in Germany up to the post-interim struggles and the book of concord. Tom Scott shows the differences between peasants' unrests in the different territories. Hans-Jürgen Goertz stresses the importance of anti-clericalism (and anti-hierachicalism) in radical religiosity of the sixteenth century. Radical religiosity was utopian and dualistic, but can hardly be defined in a single way because there were too many different approaches, experiments and subgroups within the movement. The course of the Reformation in German-speaking Switzerland is described by Kaspar von Greyerz, who points to the impact of communal decisions in Swiss rural cantons, the creation of matrimonial courts as specifically Swiss and the restriction of the Reformation by traditional practices and beliefs.
The book's third section turns to "The European Reformation." Robert M. Kingdon describes the Reformation in Calvin's Geneva and Joke Spaans the Reformation in the Low Countries. The impact of politics as well as the relation between the Anabaptists and the mainstream reformers becomes clear in this chapter. The Reformation in England is presented by Christopher Haigh, who uses the opportunity to explain his views on the English Reformation, not without drawing the reader's attention to his competitors' views. Barbara B. Diefendorf describes struggles for reform in France, which was dominated by decades of religious wars. The Italian Reformation is delineated by Massimo Firpo. In Italy, evangelicals were initially often supported by higher nobility or even clergy who hoped to reconcile with the church. After the 1540s, however, the Inquisition gained more and more control and forty years later, the Reformation had been eradicated. James R. Palmitessa presents the Reformation in Bohemia and Poland. Palmitessa's analysis is strongest when focusing on Bohemia, the region in which he specializes; the section on Poland suffers from minor inaccuracies (for example, he mistakenly identifies John a Lasco as Reformer of Flanders and Denmark, p. 195). Palmitessa--like István György Tóth in the subsequent chapter on Hungary, Turkish Hungary and Transylvania--describes the land and its people, which is very helpful, since most West European or American readers will be unfamiliar with these countries and their histories. Tóth's chapter also examines the relationship between the Catholic Church, the Reformation and the Turkish empire. The Turks allowed Christian diversity--it was even in their interest: without internal unity, the Christians would not begin a rebellion. For political reasons, Turkish pashas often favored the Protestants: Catholic bishops were considered to be working for the emperor.
Part 4 describes "Catholic Renewal and Confessional Struggle," discussing Catholic renewal in relation to confessionalism and implying that it began relatively late. Humanism is not mentioned in a separate chapter. The part begins with John O'Malley's history of the Society of Jesus. He points out that the Jesuits were not primarily an anti-Reformation institution; O'Malley also stresses their internationality. Amy E. Leonard explores female religious orders, both Catholic and Protestant, drawing the reader's attention to the diversity within the orders. Catholic nuns sometimes fought against the Reformation, while Protestant nuns refused to leave the community of the convent. William Monter's chapter on the Inquisition is one of the few more or less historiographical chapters. Johannes Burkhardt describes the Thirty Years' War as a war of ideologies which could only be ended by a suspension of the question of religious truth, and as a war of state building. José Pedro Paiva in his chapter on Spain and Portugal adds a description of religious developments in those countries to Monter's chapter on the Inquisition. As in Italy, humanists and reformers gained acceptance in the courts during the first half of the century and were uprooted in the second. Paiva stresses that reform within the Catholic Church had begun well before the Council of Trent. Dan Beaver completes Haigh's description of sixteenth century England by a chapter on the seventeenth century, the civil wars and religious conflicts. The outcome of the civil war was in some parishes a turn to tradition, in others partitions and uncertainty.
Part 5 explores, under the heading "Christian Europe and the World," Christian (or rather, Catholic) mission. Kevin Terraciano discusses the role of the church and particular missionaries' colonialism in Latin America. Where the colonial state was powerful, Christianity and indigenous religiosity converged or coexisted. In areas of minor Spanish influence, two independent cults existed. Ines G. Zupanov divides the Portuguese mission in India into three distinct phases: from 1500 to 1530, there was only a weak missionary impact but a strong Portuguese messianism. The second phase until the end of the sixteenth century was dominated by intense Christianization. In this phase, St. Thomas Christians were put under increasing pressure to conform to Latin religiosity. The third phase meant consolidation. R. Po-chia Hsia turns the reader's focus to China. After a chronology of missions to China from 1583 to 1800, Hsia describes the state of the sources and historiography and then presents some of the most important themes: missionaries, converts, Christianity and Chinese religious. Michael Cooper completes the section with a chapter on unsuccessful missionary efforts in Japan.
Part 6 concludes the volume with a description of the structures of the Reformation world. Here, important topics not discussed earlier in the volume are presented. Bruce Gordon opens the section with a chapter on "The New Parish." He first describes the evolution of a Protestant ministry, then turns to church discipline and the relationship between clergy and the laity. Gordon mostly considers Germany, Switzerland and England, but also touches on France and the Netherlands. Olivier Christin's chapter introduces the reader to the challenges of peacemaking in early modern times. James A. Sharpe describes "Magic and Witchcraft," focusing on witch-hunts. Brad S. Gregory stresses the similarities between Protestant and Catholic martyrdom and sanctity. Both Protestants and Catholics relied on the same traditions and inherited values. Yet, since the denominations were divided over doctrinal questions, it was important to sixteenth-century people to distinguish between martyrs who had died for the right faith and those who had not--and therefore were not real martyrs. Although there were not many martyrs, their names became broadly known and their influence was much stronger than their number. Miriam Bodian presents the situation of Jews, the interest of some early reformers in Hebrew scholarship and differences in attitudes and policies towards the Jews. The last chapter of the volume, by Benjamin J. Kaplan, explains different concepts of tolerance/intolerance and their political implementation up until the eighteenth century.
Despite some minor problems, this volume will be of high interest to readers who want to learn more about the Reformation world, especially to students who are looking for bibliographical references. Teachers of Reformation history will find this book useful for their seminars.
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Judith Becker. Review of Hsia, R. Po-chia, ed., A Companion to the Reformation World.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
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