German Histories in the Age of Reformations, 1400-1650

Article excerpt

German Histories in the Age of Reformations, 1400-1650. By Thomas A. Brady Jr. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2009. Pp. xviii, 477. $95.00 cloth; $27.99 paperback. ISBN 978-0-521-88909-4 cloth; 978-0-52 171778-6 paperback.)

This stunning recapitulation of a life's work maps out Thomas Brady's vision of German Reformation studies as only he can. In muscular Rankean prose packed with rough-and-ready anecdotes, he weaves high dynastic politics, theological struggle, and warfare into a comprehensive tapestry, uniting a multiplicity of factors together under common themes of empire, reform, and military struggle.To do so, he meshes images that will be familiar to readers of his previous corpus; Strasbourg, Jacob Sturm, and "turning Swiss" all embellish the narrative. These he weds successfully with his earlier theoretical impulses: Heiko Oberman's Harvest of Medieval Theology (Cambridge, MA, 1963), Peter Blickle's From the Communal Reformation to the Revolution of the Common Man (Leiden, 1998), and Robert W Scribner's For the Sake of Simple Folk (New York, 1981) take pride of place here.

The monograph is divided into four parts. Part 1 investigates the empire as a complex of German histories. Constitutional in outlook, it pans over the political geography, the estates, and the imperial Church before the Reformation. Part 2 examines reforms, both political and religious, up to the Diet of Worms in 1 521, noting (in a tone reminiscent of James Bryce) the inextricable link between Church and empire in Central Europe. The next part assesses the ramifications of the Protestant Reformation for political instability up to the Peace of Augsburg and the Second Reformation, and includes much of interest on military campaigns that punctuated that tumultuous era. Finally, part 4 reassess the solidification of confessions as part of territorial state-building in both Catholic and Protestant areas, ending in the cataclysm of the Thirty Years War.

Several new themes are also raised in this work. For example, Brady is keen to suggest the existence of the framework of an imperial Church, a theme broached in the work of his student, Michael Printy, in a recent study of German Enlightenment Catholicism as a form of nationalism. Bohemia plays a crucial role in his narrative, both at the beginning and end of his overview. As the birthplace of an oppositional Czech Church as a pendant to the imperial Church in the fifteenth century, its contribution to the later Reformation is seen as part of the harvest of medieval religiosity. …