Reordering Marriage and Society in Reformation Germany

By Thomas A Brady, Jr. | The Catholic Historical Review, January 1997 | Go to article overview

Reordering Marriage and Society in Reformation Germany


Thomas A Brady, Jr., The Catholic Historical Review


Reordering Marriage and Society in Reformation Germany. By Joel E Harrington. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 1995. Pp. xv, 315. $49.95.) Joel Harrington's book on the sixteenth-century religious reformations' impact on the institution and practice of marriage in the German-speaking world rests on two assumptions: the alteration of human behavior is an inherently difficult undertaking, in which only long-term successes, if any, are to be expected; and social changes recommended by reform agendas are to be measured only by practices, where they intersect with the inertia of custom. These principles lead him to rule out the possibility of a revolutionary change, but not change altogether, in assertions about marriage in sixteenth-century Germany.

Harrington develops a two-pronged comparative research strategy, diachronic and universal for discourse, synchronic and local for practice. On the first line, he marshals a wide spectrum of academic treatises, pamphlets, and printed ordinances to compare the ideas of twelfth-century reformers on marriage with those of later reformers, both Catholic and Protestant. He finds that later reforms were a mature stage of a much longer transformation of marriage from an exchange of objects-bride-price for bride-into a holy, indissoluble union of subjects, wife and husband.

On the second line, Harrington assembles sources on the regulation of marriage in the three German states-a major territorial state (the Rhine Palatinate), a city-state (Speyer), and a prince-bishopric (Speyer)-which lay in the same region and were respectively of the Reformed, Lutheran, and Catholic confessions. …

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