The Front-Runner of the Catholic Reformation: The Life and Works of Johann Von Staupitz

Article excerpt

Early Modern European The Front-Runner of the Catholic Reformation: The Life and Works of Johann von Staupitz. By Franz Posset. [St Andrews Studies in Reformation History.] (Burlington,Vermont: Ashgate Publishers. 2003. Pp. xxii, 398. $104.95.)

Franz Posset's 2003 book on the life and works of Johann Staupitz is ambitious and provocative. The book is written with the premise that Johann Staupitz, the Vicar-General of the Augustinian Order in Germany in the time of Martin Luther, whose mentor and spiritual father he became, has been underappreciated in the story of the sixteenth-century Reformations. Staupitz was not only a forerunner, argues Posset against previous studies, but rather he was the front-runner of the Reformation. Furthermore, in terms of theological originality, he was on a par with Martin Luther.

Going as far as to ask, "Is Staupitz the Reformation?" Posset answers, "Yes and no ."Yes because "he is an exponent of what is usually associated with the Reformation theological principles of 'grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone.' No, because he was not a proponent of nationalistic German antiRoman politics." He was a "critical thinker," but he "remained loyal to the church" (p.l, also p. 373). Nevertheless, "All in all, without Staupitz and his reform efforts there probably would not have been the Reformation in Germany as we know it" (p. 379).

These statements are based on observations on, first, the close mentoring relationship between Luther and Staupitz and their shared spiritual concerns, and, second, the "five Staupizian axioms": Staupitz' recorded sermons (e.g., Advents sermons in Nuremberg 1516, Tübingen sermons on Job 1497/98, Advents sermons in Munich 1518) reveal a definite scripture-based theology, Christo-centric spirituality (surrounding the Sweet Savior), and a doctrine of unmerited salvation through divine grace alone, through faith alone, and resulting in good works (p. 376).

In addition to highlighting the merits and sweetness of Staupitz' theology that indeed justifies for him the title of a reformer, Posset points out that throughout his career, the preacher also assumed a role of a reformer in practice as well: he acted upon his vision for reform of the religious life of the friars, of spirituality and pastoral care of his time, and of the university education in Wittenberg.

One of the many contributions of the book is that it brings to daylight the significant place of Johann Staupiz in the many currents of medieval theology and pastoral practice. …