Were We Ever Protestants? Essays in Honour of Tarald Rasmussen

This anthology discusses different aspects of Protestantism, past and present.

Professor Tarald Rasmussen has written both on medieval and modern theologians, but his primary interest has remained the reformation and 16th century church history. In stead of a traditional «Festschrift» honouring the different fields of research he has contributed to, this will be a focused anthology treating a specific theme related to Rasmussen’s research profile.

One of Professor Rasmussen’s most recent publications, a little popularized book in Norwegian titled «What is Protestantism?», reveals a central aspect research interest, namely the Weberian interest for Protestantism’s cultural significance. Despite difficulties, he finds the concept useful as a Weberian «Idealtypus» enabling research on a phenomenon combining theological, historical and sociological dimensions. Thus he employs the Protestantism as an integrative concept to trace the makeup of today’s secular societies.

This profiled approach is a point of departure for this anthology discussing important aspects of historiography in reformation history: Continuity and breaks surrounding the reformation, contemporary significance of reformation history research, traces of the reformation in today’s society.

The book relates to current discussions on Protestantism and is relevant to everyone who want to keep up to date with the latest research in the field.

Visitors to this link will find access to the table of contents and other front matter which will help them in deciding whether or not this is a volume they wish to read.  I think those interested in the Reformation will be drawn to the work.

As the table of contents is available above I won’t be repeating it here.  Instead, I will make a few observations about the book, which I found very interesting and informative, and I will point out a few problems with the book.

First, the observations:  the essays in this collection are a fitting celebration of the scholar herein honored.  Rasmussen is certainly the most accomplished of Reformation scholars from Scandinavia, and the work at hand centers its attention primarily on the outworking of the Reformation in those lands.  Particularly engaging, for me, were the essays by Leppin (who is a wonderful scholar), Jürgensen, and Kaufmann.

Jürgensen’s intriguing contribution featured a number of excellent photographs which properly illustrated his chief thesis, which is that art is the one place Protestants felt comfortable in retaining their Roman Catholic affinity for images and idols.  The cult of the Saints is alive and well in Protestantism, in other words, in artistic depictions – even if the cult was denounced in sermons and tractates.

And Kaufmann’s essay is simply superb.  His assertion that

The German ‘Protestant community’ itself has a chequered history of division and hatred.  The Lutheran and Reformed (Calvinist) parties required considerable time and effort to overcome doctrinal differences and reach a frosty unity based on perception of the common Catholic enemy.

is right on the mark.  And his demonstration of that truth in his contribution is thorough and intelligent.  He is, accordingly, also right to point out that

The Peace of Augsburg may therefore have established political and legal peace, but it did nothing to prevent – indeed promoted – the establishment of a bitter confessional split in the German nation which provided the framework for the development of an unparalleled level of inter-confessional rancor and uninhibited polemic.

And now, second, a few problems with the book.  The primary issue readers will have with the book is that there are a number of places where it is obvious that it has not been carefully examined by a native English speaker.   For instance,

on page 1 – ‘bin’ stands where the word should be ‘been’.

on page 4 – ‘Luther’s Catholic Intention and the Raise of Protest’ should be ‘Luther’s Catholic Intention and the Rise of Protest’.

on page 7 – ‘Making Luther Protesting’ should be ‘Making Luther Protestant’.

on page 11 – “Wider Hans Worst” should be ‘Wieder Hans Wurst’.

And finally (because I don’t want to list every grammatical error but simply illustrate their fairly common appearance), on page 11 the closing paragraph as a whole is oddly constructed (from an English point of view):

Was Luther ever a Prostestant?  Again: No, never.  How could he?  Luther wanted to be a Catholic, and he felt being a Catholic.  Sure, not a Roman Catholic, but he was neither a Lutheran nor a Protestant.  He was just: a Christian.

The wonderfully informative and engaging essays of this collection deserved a second go through linguistically.  The reading experience of this book is less pleasurable than it could be, and should be, simply because the various grammatical errors are jarring.   Reading the work is like driving down a lovely highway where the scenery out the windows of the car is simply enthralling and being jarred from the experience by a giant pothole that nearly shakes one from one’s seat.

I sincerely hope that should a second edition appear, it will be combed through by an English editor before it is printed.