Lived Religion and the Long Reformation in Northern Europe c. 1300–1700

New at Brill- for you Church History peeps-

18265Lived Religion and the Long Reformation in Northern Europe puts Reformation in a daily life context using lived religion as a conceptual and methodological tool: exploring how people “lived out” their religion in their mundane toils and how religion created a performative space for them. This collection reinvestigates the character of the Reformation in an area that later became the heartlands of Lutheranism. The way people lived their religion was intricately linked with questions of the value of individual experience, communal cohesion and interaction. During the late Middle Ages and Early Modern Era religious certainty was replaced by the experience of doubt and hesitation. Negotiations on and between various social levels manifest the needs, aspirations and resistance behind the religious change.

Contributors include: Kaarlo Arffman, Jussi Hanska, Miia Ijäs, Sari Katajala-Peltomaa, Jenni Kuuliala, Marko Lamberg, Jason Lavery, Maija Ojala, Päivi Räisänen-Schröder, Raisa Maria Toivo.

The good folk at Brill have provided a review copy and that review will post by the week’s end.  The most engaging of the essays, to the present reviewer, was Appeal and Survival of Anabaptism in Early Modern Germany by Päivi Räisänen-Schröder.  This essay is the fourth chapter of ten and appears in the section titled Lived Religion in Daily Life.  The entire table of contents is available at the link above and will not be repeated here.

As to the essay of greatest interest, which will occupy us in what follows, it is an excellent example of the importance of perspective in historical research.  That is, researchers are obliged to examine historical periods from the point of view of someone other than the ‘victors’ who invariably ‘write history’.  In Räisänen-Schröder’s work we are treated to a really rather unique examination of the Anabaptist movement.  For example

To quote Benjamin Kaplan, it was quite possible to be “a friend to the person, yet an enemy to the cause”, as “one did not identify the individuals whom one knew personally – neighbors, relatives, fellow citizens, friends – with the remorseless, faceless ideologues who (one imagined) marched under the banner of those confessions” (p. 105).

Thus, we are disabused of the notion that the Anabaptists were universally despised.  Räisänen-Schröder also attends to primary sources, which are cited rather a lot throughout the essay, in order to allow us to see things from the Anabaptist side at first hand.  Of these Anabaptist texts, Räisänen-Schröder notes

Rather than treating them as expressions of their writer’s inner thoughts, I have read them as strategic narratives intended to present the writer in a certain light (p. 106).

So, for instance

Melchior Greiner, for his part, had criticized the lax moral standards of the Lutherans almost twenty-five years earlier, in 1574. He complained that attending the Lutheran Eucharist would force him to receive the sacrament together with “the unworthy”, “among whom he can see no repentance”.  He considered this a severe risk for his salvation (p. 111).

Who were these believers and why did they break from the dominant Churches?  Was it for theological reasons (as is often asserted) or because of something else.  Räisänen-Schröder shows us the apparent reason, when wryly writing

Especially among the rank-and-file members, being an Anabaptist was more a question of good practice than of correct doctrine (p. 115).

Theology took a back seat to morality in the minds of early Anabaptists in Germany.  This, naturally, calls into question the common consensus of research.  Furthermore, they were not viewed as theological heretics by their non-Anabaptist neighbors.

If Anabaptists were truly and generally believed to be heretics, denunciation would surely have resulted – any other course of action would have been too much of a “salvific risk”. Otherwise, we might have to reassess the fear of God’s wrath as a social and cultural force in Early Modern village society. This is a question that in my view has not been studied in sufficient depth and that, given the nature of the sources, is very difficult to answer (pp. 123-124).

Räisänen-Schröder concludes

Early Modern laypeople were less interested in theological doctrines and confessional distinctions than maintaining a set of beliefs, practices and values that helped them give meanings to and cope with the joys and hardships of life emotionally, intellectually and practically (p. 126).

Imagine, for a moment, that Lutheran Pastors and Church members had actually lived their faith and behaved ethically and morally… The Anabaptist movement may never have lasted past the disaster of Münster because its ethical impulses would have been found in Lutheranism.

The value of this essay, and many others in this helpful collection, is that it helps us to question the correctness of our preconceptions.  As such, it is extraordinarily educational and highly informative.  It does, in sum, what a good text is supposed to do: it makes us think about what we think.

Tolle, lege!

About Jim

I am a Pastor, and Lecturer in Church History and Biblical Studies at Ming Hua Theological College.
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