The Reformation of Feeling: Shaping the Religious Emotions in Early Modern Germany

By Nauert, Charles G. | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2011 | Go to article overview

The Reformation of Feeling: Shaping the Religious Emotions in Early Modern Germany


Nauert, Charles G., The Catholic Historical Review


The Reformation of Feeling: Shaping the Religious Emotions in Early Modern Germany. By Susan C. Karant-Nunn. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2010. Pp. x, 342. $74.00. ISBN 978-0-195-39973-8.)

Susan Karant-Nunn has undertaken a comparative study of the role of emotion or feeling in the religious experience of Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists in early-modern Germany. She relies mostly on sermons preached at times when religious emotions were most likely to be aroused: observances of Holy Week and pastoral care of the dying. She defines her subject simply: It is about the use of preaching to shape the religious experience of people through rhetorical appeals to their emotions. The great Catholic preachers exploited the emotions surrounding the Passion of Christ, describing his suffering in great detail. The goal was to inspire hearers not just to meditate on the Crucifixion but also to experience vivid religious emotion- to shed tears. Such preaching went back to late-medieval sermons; it continued in the sermons of later figures, especially Jesuits and Capuchins; and it made a major contribution to the restoration of Catholic religious life in Germany. In addition to their stress on the gruesome details of Jesus' Crucifixion, Catholic preachers exploited traditional veneration of the Virgin Mary to arouse their hearers' feelings. Karant-Nunn notes many ways in which Protestant religious practice turned away from these traditions. Yet her Protestant preachers also strove to stir the emotions. Elements of continuity with medieval religion are most obvious in Lutheranism. Although Martin Luther criticized efforts to arouse weeping, he approved use of sermons to stir up feelings of religious commitment. Lutheran sermons avoided detailed description of the suffering of Christ; they shifted attention from the Passion to the redemptive power of Christ's death and resurrection. References to Mary's sorrows were much diminished. But Lutherans did not mount a radical attack on tradition. Emphasis shifted from the events of Holy Week to the salvific death and resurrection of the Savior. …

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