Sixteenth Century Studies Conference 2003 Session 112: The "Common Man" Wrests Control. Sixteenth Century Studies Society.
Reviewed by Susan R. Boettcher
Published on H-German (December, 2003)
Practicing What They Preached: Halle's Testimonial System and a New Homiletics. Thomas Bach, Syracuse University <p> Literacy and Confessions of Belief Composed by the "Common Man" in Central Germany, c. 1575. Robert J. Christman, University of Arizona <p> A View from Below: The Broader Populace and the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). Sigrun Haude, University of Cincinnati <p> Chair: Susan R. Boettcher, University of Texas at Austin <p> A session of fine papers, each of them skillfully constructed, yielded a lively discussion about the definition of "the common man" and how he can be found in the historical record, which continued into the session break. <p> Thomas Bach, a doctoral student at Syracuse working on a dissertation dealing with church-state relations in eighteenth-century Brandenburg-Prussia, delivered a paper drawing on sources from the Halle University Archive and the correspondence of the kings of Brandenburg-Prussia. Arguing against the predominating view that Pietism as it developed in Halle became the "spiritual arm of Prussian absolutism," Bach's research suggests that the Halle testimonial system was an opportunity for pastors and professors to shape religion in their own image and thus use it to influence the state, at least until the system was rescinded in mid-eighteenth century. In discussing the emergence of Pietism at Halle, Bach traced the outcome of the requirement for an inner spirituality to the demand for a style of preaching that would disdain doctrinal or dogmatic subjects for a simple, colorful, biblically-oriented style that spoke directly to the spiritual concerns of the "common man." Also, pastors were forced to compete with the growing print market for spiritual literature that edified and consoled. The proliferation of such texts in multiple editions suggests the desire of the reading public for this sort of spiritual comfort. The theological faculty at Halle responded to this general movement by revising its instruction of to theological students. Pastors were to be integrated into their communities and work harder at their roles as <cite>Seelsorger</cite>. They were also to preach in a way that undergirded the spiritual direction of pietism; this practice was encouraged through the establishment of a seminar that allowed theological students to practice their sermons in Halle churches. Though a characteristic "Halle style" of preaching apparently did not develop from the seminar, authorities agreed that the inner condition of the pastor was the key to successful preaching. Consequently, Gotthilf August Francke worked to "obtain a monopoly over pastoral training and certification within Brandenburg-Prussia's Lutheran church." As a result of the activities of Francke and his son, after 1719 no potential pastor could attain a pulpit in the duchy of Magdeburg without a testimonial from Halle that certified his orthodoxy and conduct as acceptable. By 1729, this system was extended to all of Brandenburg-Prussia and its requirements were codified. The Halle faculty examined candidates to see whether they had experienced spiritual struggle, whether they were well versed in the tenets of pietism, and whether were prepared in areas of practical theology and homiletics. Even after the suspension of the system in 1752, some consistories continued to insist on the testimonials as a condition of employment. <p> Robert Christman presented a paper stemming from his dissertation on the development of the Flacian controversy in Grafschaft Mansfeld in the 1570s. Most research on the Lutheran theological controversies of the second half of the sixteenth century suggests that the broader populace did not take any interest in <cite>Lehrstreitigkeiten</cite> primarily conducted in universities and via pamphlet wars. Christman has found source material to suggest, however, that more than three years of open debate (before Cyriakus Spangenberg, one of the most vocal proponents of one side was expelled from the Grafschaft) meant that the controversies took hold in local populations. Contemporaries identified a population of about 160 "heretics"; Christman has found a total of fourteen lay confessions from this group. The views expressed in these documents are highly derivative of Spangenberg's views and so do not represent the independent development of lay opinion. Frequently, such confessions were written in response to the requests of local pastors and superintendents. But common people may have heard the message of Spangenberg's preaching that everyone should become involved in giving public confessions of faith, and this message may also give a clue as to why Spangenberg's position found so many supporters in the broader populace. In other words: because Spangenberg's theological position emphasized the need for each individual to give account of his beliefs, common people may have sensed a democratizing impulse behind it and consequently have become adherents. Moreover, authors of confessions may have sought to influence the authorities who solicited them through the formulations of their confessions. The content of the confessions, in any case, shows that the laity maintained their loyalty to Spangenberg's position, whether through open support or deceit. In some cases, lay confessions appear to have been published. In any case, the confessions show that common people found a creative middle path between formulating their own views and accepting the views of authorities. <p> Sigrun Haude's paper on the reaction of the "common man" to war, pestilence and tribulation concentrated on sources from Franconia and Bavaria that reveal the attitude of the broader populace to the Thirty Years' War, particularly visitation records from the Nuremberg countryside. She raised the question of what role religion actually played in the lives of common people as a means for dealing with three decades of warfare, inflation, disease, and destruction. While elite and prescriptive literature suggests that contemporaries interpreted war as divine punishment for sin, the picture on the ground in southwestern Germany is more nuanced. Haude argued that while many sources clearly show that authorities mandated increased religious and pious practice and promoted stricter social discipline in hopes of appeasing God's wrath, little attention has been paid to the response of broader social groups to such demands. Haude's previous research has suggested that the response to calls for greater piety in the form of additional prayer hours and sermon attendance was frequently not as compliant as authorities hoped. Sovereigns like Maximilian of Bavaria were forced to issue decrees repeatedly to achieve even minimal compliance. In Nuremberg and Brandenburg-Ansbach, attendance at such events dropped the more often they were prescribed. Visitation records from the Nuremberg hinterland suggest that authorities found sexual misconduct to have increased exponentially during the war. Haude theorizes that in fact the crisis atmosphere of the age may have allowed morals to become laxer. These visitation records also show that large numbers of people simply failed to react to demands for greater piety, not least because following such prescriptions would have meant that peasants were forced to neglect field work. Sometimes pastors even discontinued additional service and prayers because no one came, pointing to the peasants' preoccupation with the demands of their fields and livestock. Even when peasants suggested their willingness to participate in such activities if they could be scheduled at convenient times, consistories refused to comply. Instead, Haude suggested, peasants and other common people turned to superstition, ritual blessings, and magic, and they were not fussy about the confession of the people performing such magic. The prevalence of magic, however, does not suggest that people rejected official religion, simply that they made a selective use of its services, often justifying their behavior by arguing that it was the tradition in the local area. More than anything, visitation reports and consistorial records suggest a refusal on the part of authorities to listen to their parishioners. <p> The active discussion focused primarily on the question of how historians construct the common man, and whether or not common people are visible in the sources examined by the panel participants. Questions about continuity in authorities' construction of the common people over the three hundred year period covered by the papers were left open. <p>
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Susan R. Boettcher. Review of , Sixteenth Century Studies Conference 2003 Session 112: The "Common Man" Wrests Control.
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