Reading Augustine in the Reformation: The Flexibility of Intellectual Authority in Europe, 1500-1620

Synopsis

In sixteenth-century Europe, Augustine was received as one of the most prominent religious and philosophical authorities, yet the various parties appropriated his thought in different, often contrasting ways. Augustine was claimed as a thoroughly Lutheran, Catholic, or Calvinist thinker, and even hailed as the ideal Erasmian pastor. These wildly contrasting receptions raise crucial questions about the significance of Augustine's thought in the Reformation period. They also show the complex relationship between religious change and the new intellectual culture of Renaissance humanism.

Drawing on a variety of printed and manuscript sources, Arnoud Visser breaks new ground in three ways. He systematically grounds Augustine's theological reception in the history of reading and the material culture of books and manuscripts. He does not confine his examination to particular confessional parties or specific geographic boundaries, but offers a cross-confessional account of Augustine's appropriation in early modern Europe. Finally, he provides crucial insight into the nature of intellectual authority in the early modern period.

Central in this study are the production, circulation and consumption of Augustine's works. Visser examines the impact of the new art of print, the rise of humanist scholarship, and the emerging confessional divisions on Augustine's reception. He shows how editors navigated a wealth of patristic information by using search tools and anthologies, and explains how individual readers used their copies and how they applied their knowledge in public debates.Reading Augustine in the Reformationargues that emerging confessional pressures did not restrict intellectual life, as has often been claimed, but promoted exciting new areas and modes of scholarship.