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The Two Reformations

The Two Reformations: The Journey from the Last Days to the New World

Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Two Reformations
    Book Description:

    In this last collection of his vital, controversial, and accessible writings, Heiko A. Oberman seeks to liberate and broaden our understanding of the European Reformation, from its origins in medieval philosophy and theology through the Puritan settlers who brought Calvin's vision to the New World. Ranging over many topics, Oberman finds fascinating connections between aspects of the Reformation and twentieth-century history and thought-most notably the connection to Nazism and the Holocaust. He revisits his earlier work on the history of anti-Semitism, rejects the notion of an unbroken line from Luther to Hitler to the Holocaust, and offers a new perspective on the Christian legacy of anti-Semitism and its murderous result in the twentieth century.Oberman demonstrates how the simplifications and rigidities of modern historiography have obscured the existential spirits of such great figures as Luther and Calvin. He explores the debt of both Luther and Calvin to medieval religious thought and the impact of diverse features of "the long fifteenth century"-including the Black Death, nominalism, humanism, and the Conciliar Movement-on the Reformation.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13034-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. PREFACE: Burn after Reading
    (pp. xv-xx)
    (pp. 1-20)

    From one perspective the fifteenth century appears as the calm before the storm of reformation, revolution, and the wars of religion—the lady gravid, awaiting the fullness of time. In this view, Martin Luther and the Reformation will open a new era in European history, initiating a world destined to becometotaliter aliter.Often referred to as Protestant triumphalism, it is a perspective deeply rooted in nineteenth-century German scholarship, personified by the works of Leopold von Ranke and reflected in Bernd Moeller’s characterization of Luther as “Person der Weltgeschichte,” a prime mover of global history.¹ When I took up the...

  6. II LUTHER AND THE VIA MODERNA: The Philosophical Backdrop of the Reformation Breakthrough
    (pp. 21-43)

    The idea of aphilosophia perennisbased on the explication of selfevident truths (veritates per sese notae) still had its adherents in the later Middle Ages, as did the related idea of philosophy as the ready handmaiden (ancilla) of theology. By Luther’s time, however, they had been forced onto the defensive, surviving mainly in the Dominican network.¹ Against this fading background, Luther achieved his own redefinition of the range and role of philosophy (although Thomistic metaphysics reasserted itself in the wake of the Aristotelian renaissance and the Counter Reformation). Luther was an eager student of the tradition shaped by Occam,...

  7. III MARTIN LUTHER: A Friar in the Lion’s Den
    (pp. 44-61)

    During the second part of the twentieth century a concerted effort was made to restructure the issues of the date and nature of Luther’s Reformation breakthrough. Carefully steering a course between the Scylla of presenting Luther as a deus ex machina, the unprecedented discoverer of the Gospel, and the Charybdis of Luther as the latest link in a golden chain of medieval witnesses to the truth (testes veritatis)—the so-called forerunners—historians scrutinized his youthful studies to reconstruct the earliest stages in his development. Realizing that Luther developed his program in the course of fulfilling his duties as a professor...

  8. IV REFORMATION: End Time, Modern Times, Future Times
    (pp. 62-80)

    One of the foundation myths of the Reformation pertains to the termreformationitself. When I use it in the singular, I am referring to the movement originating in Wittenberg to acknowledge that novel forms of thinking and experiencing, of seeing the surrounding world, and of interpreting the course of events were fundamentally shaped and informed by Martin Luther. As even his staunchest critics and more distant observers have noted, we can speak of a mentality before and after Luther, ante-and post-1519–1520, those crucial years when the authority of councils and popes was put on public trial by the...

    (pp. 81-85)

    The thesis that Martin Luther’s Reformation prepared the way for Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich has been put forward at various times with a variety of supporting arguments, but since World War II it rests on a single idea—that German anti-Semitism was the driving force behind the Holocaust. Few aspects of the Reformation heritage have been so distorted in the public perception, unwittingly aided by the propensity of Reformation historians for skirting the issue altogether. Even when they did venture into this subject, they had to contend with preconceived ideas deeply rooted in the trauma of the Holocaust. Well before...

    (pp. 86-96)

    In the late summer of 1515, Desiderius Erasmus, by then renowned as a humanist and social critic, dramatically encountered an explosive convergence between theoretical and practical reform. Traveling in England with his friend John Colet—on one of those expeditions he later dignified as aperegrinatio—they took the road to Canterbury to see the famous cathedral. There both men marveled at the extravagant devotion people lavished on the statue of St. Thomas Becket and at the kisses with which they covered his feet. The reactions of Colet and Erasmus were diametrically opposite. Colet, an Oxford New Testament specialist,¹ regarded...

    (pp. 97-105)

    A century ago every serious history of Europe was bound to have a chapter on Calvin and Calvinism. Authors played up the story of heroic Calvinist resistance to the alliance of the Pope, the Catholic King of Spain, and the Most Christian King of France and gave more space to those Calvinist pirates, the Geuzen, or “Sea Beggars,” than to the noble family of Guise, Catholic champions in the French Wars of Religion. They followed the spread of Calvinism from the Seven Provinces and the kingdom of Scotland and along an intellectual axis from Heidelberg and eventually to Harvard. It...

    (pp. 106-110)

    The myth of the ideological and structural weakness of the late medieval church, propagated in ecumenical unison by Protestant and Catholic historians alike, has long led us to ask the wrong question. The puzzle is not why and where the Reformation failed, but where and why it succeeded. Heavily weighted against change were such institutions as the benefice system and the system of precedent in canon and secular law, the first much maligned and perhaps wasteful but powerful in resources and functional; the second boasting the authority of centuries of brilliant Roman and ecclesiastical jurisprudence. A pervasive conservativism, moreover, regarded...

  13. IX THE CUTTING EDGE: The Reformation of the Refugees
    (pp. 111-115)

    The survival of Calvinism raises the same question we had of Lutheranism: namely, how do we explain the fact that the Reformation did not fail? Luther gained precious time by exploiting the Augsburg Interim to appeal to universities, the emperor, and a future council. Calvin had no such breathing space. With the university and the royal court already moving against evangelical dissenters, he was forced to flee Paris and seek refuge in Switzerland. Even before he was fully established in Geneva, he was taking up his pen to write the “Antidote” against the decrees of the Council of Trent.


  14. X CALVIN’S LEGACY: Its Greatness and Limitations
    (pp. 116-168)

    What follows is a settling of accounts with the Reformed fathers and especially with their predecessor, John Calvin. By settling accounts I mean drawing up the balance sheets, a process of both addition and subtraction, of a simultaneous pondering and weighing, an exercise that calls for both granite and grit. It is not intended exclusively for a closed academic circle but as a public appraisal of Calvin’s aims and meaning—of what he gave the Western world, did for it and to it. To come close to this goal within a small space, I have opted for two points of...

    (pp. 169-170)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 171-226)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 227-236)