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The Radical Reformation (Sixteenth Century Essays & Studies)

It is associated not with Luther and with the state churches that grew from his Wittenberg movement, but with the reformers who went even further in their theological teachings and in their challenges to estab- lished political and social hierarchies. The radical reformers, as classified by George Williams in his encyclopaedic The Radical Reformation, were the Anabaptists, the Spiritualists and the Anti-Trinitarians.

For Williams, these groups, despite their dif- ferent points of origin and their different theological emphases, constituted a tradi- tion that was set apart, by virtue of shared ideals, from the magisterial reformations that emanated from Wittenberg, Zurich and Geneva. Williams, The Radical Reformation Philadelphia, The symposium that generated this volume of essays sought neither to define radi- calism, nor to examine it as a distinct ecclesiastical tradition. Rather, it set out to con- sider, across the early modern period and across Protestant Europe, radical critiques of mainstream Reformations, of their doctrinal settlements and of the ways of life that they promoted.

There was, it seems, a pattern that repeated itself throughout the history of early modern Prot- estantism: wherever orthodoxies established themselves, forces of opposition gained momentum.

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These forces offered alternative sets of beliefs, and also, in many cases, alter- native modes of family and social life and alternative senses of identity and belonging. On gender and family relations see, for example, the work of Mirjam de Baar and Xenia von Tippelskirch, both of whom took part in the symposium from which this volume originated. It preserves, as a number of the contributions to this volume suggest, an artificial division between a respectable, magisterial Reformation and an unruly, radical Reformation. It was reinforced by mainstream reformers throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as they sought to shore up their own authority.

Heresiographies and confes- sional histories imposed hostile categories on individuals and groups seen as threats to orthodoxy and order, controlling the narrative of the Reformation as it progressed. Does the notion of a radical Reformation, of radical critique, have, therefore, any continuing interpretative relevance? The radical Reformation was certainly not a historical reality: it had no underlying unity. Subscription to a statement of faith did not necessarily lead to lasting uniform- ity of belief and practice, as recent work on Lutheranism during and beyond the age of orthodoxy in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries has emphasized.

In considering those boundaries we come to the core question of how we, as historians, define the Reformation. But the Reformation was never, at heart, a political or legal settlement. While Luther retreated behind the protection of the state and condemned those who challenged the divinely ordained order, the evangelicals whom he derided as unreliable enthusiasts succeeded in unforeseeable ways.

Into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries these groups played a crucial role in the Christianisation of American society and in spreading Protestantism further afield. It is, Lehmann points out, the Baptist, Pente- costal and charismatic churches, rather than their Lutheran or Reformed counterparts, that flourish today in Europe, North America, Africa and parts of Asia.

The first set of detailed case studies focus on the German-speaking lands during the early decades of the Reformation. Thomas Kaufmann explores the relationship between the Reformation and its early radical manifestations. The so-called radi- cal Reformation was, he argues, created during this key period of upheaval through a deliberate process of theological and social differentiation on the part of Luther and his supporters. But while Luther remained loyal to a vision of the social order based upon the three estates, which could accommodate differences and ambiguities, other evangelicals proved more prepared to instigate political change and adopted or sought to adopt more radical strategic measures to achieve a reform of Christian life.

He used language to mobilize emotions and establish group consciousness, to burn bridges and escalate hostilities. Names were not only, she argues, polem- ical weapons, but could also create a sense of identity and belonging. The importance of naming for understanding the so-called radical Reformation is an important theme throughout the volume. The next set of essays move away from Germany, to England and the Netherlands.

All four argue, in various ways, against the notion that the Reformation and its radical critique were distinct phenomena; all argue for the adoption of an analytical frame- work that recognizes radical critique as part of the Reformation itself. Ethan Shagan focuses on concepts of economic radicalism articulated in England during the s and s. In England under Edward VI, however, leaders of the Reformation advo- cated a thoroughgoing redistribution of wealth, a taming of market forces and the exclusion of capitalists from the Christian community.

It focuses on the authority of Scripture and the role of the Holy Spirit in inspiring its interpreters, an issue that supposedly separated magis- terial reformers from their radical brethren.

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Here, against a backdrop of religious pluralism, defining boundaries was very difficult. Waite shows that within liberal Mennonite communities, spiritualism flourished alongside an appreciation of Scripture and reason. Here we find points of contact with other forms of radicalism that emerged on the eve of the Enlightenment.

The next three essays examine the radical-magisterial divide through the prism of history writing. Lurid and richly illustrated accounts of polygamy and communism and of violence and executions served, he suggests, to distinguish heretical groups from the main body of the civil, well-ordered Christian society.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, these accounts provided warnings from history, shoring up orthodoxy in times of threat. She shows the extent to which these accounts responded to changing circumstances, and drew to differing degrees on the plea for toleration that the trial had engendered from Sebas- tian Castellio. His ideas did not, however, constitute a serious threat. Even had they been published, they would have caused little more than a temporary shock, Levitin suggests, for what counted in the writing of Reformation and other history was technical skill and scholarship, which Beale lacked.

Innovation in his- tory writing was occurring within the orthodox mainstream, Levitin argues, rather than at the radical fringes. The final set of essays focuses in various ways on radicalism in a national and trans- national perspective. As Protestantism splintered during the Revolutionary period, Anabaptists, Spiritualists, and Anti-Trinitarians resurfaced. Like those examined by Driedger, English histo- ries of the Anabaptists served to warn contemporaries of the dangers of heresy. They constructed genealogies, tracing the origins of seventeenth-century groups back to early sixteenth-century Germany.

English Spiritualists and Anti-Trinitarians did read European texts. But the lasting products of this period of turmoil, the Baptists and Quakers, grew not from Continental roots but from the English Puritan tradition. In his discussion of French Quakers, Lionel Laborie also investigates questions of influence and the transmission of ideas. Developing further the theme of the construction of histories and gene- alogies, Laborie also shows the extent to which French radicalism was shaped by the memory of religious violence.

As Ulrike Gleixner reminds us in her essay on Pietist missionary activity during the eighteenth century, the global expansion of Protestantism emerged from the mar- gins of the state churches, from the radical rather than the magisterial Reformations.

Luther and the Protestant Reformation: Crash Course World History #218

August Hermann Franke and his followers sought to realize a bet- ter future on earth, starting in Halle and spreading outwards. Here, where religion and global capitalism converged, the radical Reforma- tion showed, once again, its potential to disrupt the status quo. Quakers and German dissenters from within the Anabaptist and Pietist traditions were amongst the most vocal critics of slavery, and Sensbach emphasizes in particular the lasting impact of the Moravian missions of the s and s, with their emphasis on egalitarianism.

Even after Luther had passed away, millions of his books and pamphlets were printed and sold. In Germany, generation after generation engaged in commemorating and celebrating Luther, beginning in and leading up to the present. Love was a decisive factor, he argued, just as was hate. Germans were always closer to him than non-Germans, he remarked, and Luther had not been able to complete his main project, the reform of the whole Christian church. According to Bernd Moeller, however, within European history, when one speaks of success, or impact, no other figure even comes close to Martin Luther.

As we are approaching the quincentennial commemoration of the Protestant Reformation in , let me take a look at the state of Christendom five hundred years later, in the second decade of the twenty-first century. True, Protestantism, has become a major world religion, with congregations on all continents.

In the course of the twentieth century, however, not all branches of the Protestant family grew at the same rate. In Europe and North America, Lutheran churches, that is the churches directly descending from the German reformer, stagnated. Some are in decline, like many other mainstream churches. In contrast, the various branches of Baptist churches blossomed and attracted many new members, and so did numer- ous Pentecostal churches. In Africa and some parts of Asia, in particular, congrega- tions that can best be described as charismatic, fundamentalist, or evangelical I am 1 Bernd Moeller, Luthers Erfolge, in: Luther-Rezeption.

Luther never accepted the baptism of adults and was among the fiercest opponents of the early Baptist movement. Furthermore, Luther strongly rejected any kind of charismatic or emotional religious performance. For him, those who believed that they should fol- low sensational inspirations, were nothing but enthusiasts who could not be trusted. However, not in the early years of the Protestant Reformation, but over the centu- ries, these unreliable enthusiasts have succeeded in unforeseen ways. In deciphering the various stages of this most astonishing story, let me first take a look at the early years of the Protestant Reformation.

For many, he spoke the truth that had been suppressed far too long.

In his Address to the German Nobility, composed in the summer of , Luther argued that the three walls pro- tecting papal power in Rome should tumble down like the walls of Jericho. No, he wrote, the spiritual power is not above the temporal, and priesthood has been given not only to the clergy but to all believers. No, he continued, the pope does not pos- sess the exclusive right to interpret Scripture. No, Luther thundered finally, church councils cannot only be called by the pope; in a case of emergency they can be called by anyone, also by civil authorities. A year later, in , the situation had completely changed.

The papal bull Exsurge Domine had been published. At the Diet of Worms, the imperial court officially banned Luther.

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This meant the German Hercules, as some admirers called him in , was excommunicated and had become an outlaw, at least within the territories loyal to the emperor. Luther would not have been able to survive this double attack, had he not been protected by Frederick the Wise, the elector of his native Saxony. Saxon noblemen had been around him during his stay in Worms, and Saxon horse- men kidnapped him on the way back from Worms to Wittenberg and brought him to the Wartburg. There can be no doubt that Luther knew how precarious his per- sonal situation had become.

In this way, his slogan of the priest- hood of all believers gained substance and credibility. However, he was shocked when he was informed that during his absence his friend and colleague Karlstadt and some of his Wittenberg followers had introduced radical reforms with what he considered disconcerting rapidity. Let me follow the description given by the great American Reformation scholar Roland H.

The tonsured permitted their hair to grow. During mass, wine was given to lay people. Priests celebrated mass in plain clothes. Portions of the mass were recited in German. Vigils ceased, vespers were altered, images shattered. Meat was eaten on fast days. Patrons withdrew their endowments.

The Magisterial Reformation

In other words, the consequences of what Luther had started, was deeply affecting the daily religious life of people in Wittenberg. From then on, his top priorities were control and discipline, not unlimited iconoclasm. After he had knocked down most of the traditional eccle- siastical walls and some theological ones as well, he now began to erect new walls himself, new walls that should secure that his initial success had not been in vain, walls that should protect what he had achieved.

No wall that Luther erected was high enough, however, to prevent some of the ideas that he had formulated and propagated from spreading. For Luther, this notion was closely tied to his most effective form of defense against papal arguments. Early on, in or , when being attacked, he asked his oppo- nents to base their arguments on scriptural evidence. No doubt this method worked very well to his advantage, for example at the hearings in Worms. In keeping with this, Luther demanded that future pastors should receive a solid university education in biblical studies. Within just a few years he dropped the idea that anyone could simply go ahead and read and understand the message of the Bible.

In , when the leaders of discontent peasants formulated their political claims in twelve articles, they explicitly underscored their arguments with biblical references. Luther, whom they had nominated as one of the conciliators in the conflict, could not be convinced. For him, the argumentation of the peasants was the argumentation of dilettantes, who should mind their own business and go back to work.

As the conflict escalated, Luther did not hesitate to support the princes as they rushed to restore what they considered the divine order with brutal force. Many of the demands of the peasants were closely connected with the religious ideas of those who believed in adult baptism. In the early s, some concerned Christians came to the conclusion that true Christian congregations should consist only of people who understood what Christian life implied and who decided to join such communities fully aware of all duties and obligations.

As students of the so-called left wing of the Reformation know, different groups propa- gated the belief in adult baptism, particularly in southern Germany. Two years after the blood of thousands of peasants had been shed, some of those who denied the validity of infant baptism met in the village Schleitheim in northern Switzerland. Under the leadership of Michael Sattler, they formulated the Schleitheim Confession of Faith, which consisted of seven articles. In brief: baptism should be given only to those who had repented and who truly believed that Christ had taken away their sins.

Those who fall into error should be admonished and, if they continued sinning, excommunicated. Only faithful children of God should be allowed to take part in the Eucharist. Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Other editions. Enlarge cover.

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Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. George Williams' monumental The Radical Reformation has been an essential reference work for historians of early modern Europe, narrating in rich, interpretative detail the interconnected stories of radical groups operating at the margins of the mainline Reformation.

In its scope--spanning all of Europe from Spain to Poland, from Denmark to Italy--and its erudition, The Ra George Williams' monumental The Radical Reformation has been an essential reference work for historians of early modern Europe, narrating in rich, interpretative detail the interconnected stories of radical groups operating at the margins of the mainline Reformation. Now in paperback format, Williams' magnum opus should be considered for any university-level course on the Reformation. Get A Copy.

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