Worship in Medieval and Early Modern Europe: Change and Continuity in Religious Practice

By Leggett, Richard Geoffrey | Anglican Theological Review, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Worship in Medieval and Early Modern Europe: Change and Continuity in Religious Practice


Leggett, Richard Geoffrey, Anglican Theological Review


Worship in Medieval and Early Modern Europe: Change and Continuity in Religious Practice. Edited by Karin Maag and John D. Witvliet. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004. xiii + 353 pp. $60.00 (cloth); $30.00 (paper).

Karin Maag and John Witvliet are to be congratulated for assembling an excellent collection of essays from a wide-ranging group of scholars. By arranging to have these essays published by Notre Dame Press, Maag and Witvliet have reminded us that the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries matter to all Western Christians regardless of our confessional affinities.

The essays use documents and images "that convey the most accurate possible picture of the actual practices of the period" (pp. 2-3). In addition to the use of primary materials to introduce each essay, the collection reflects three "impulses" in recent scholarship: (a) a widening of "the timeline in which we consider the changes of the sixteenth century" (p. 7); (b) a consideration of "the nature of change in both Protestant and Catholic contexts" (p. 8); and (c) a use of "several complementary methods to study worship practices" (p. 8). The goal of the collection is neither to lament the loss of continuity nor to celebrate reform, but to describe and analyze the continuity in the centuries we have come to know as the Reformation.

The first section of the collection, "Starting Points for Assessing Continuity and Change," contains two essays, one by Margo Fassler, the other by Robert Kingdon. Fassler's study of a fifteenth-century French devotional anthology points to the need of worshipers for daily sustenance while on the journey of faith, a need that the reformers recognized even if they could not appreciate the form this need took in late medieval devotional materials. Kingdon demonstrates how certain fundamental pre-Reformation concerns, such as frequent gathering for worship and the church as a social-religious disciplinarian, continued to influence church life in a reformed Geneva, even while the external forms underwent significant change.

In the next section, "Complexities of Location and Time Period," Frank Senn and Bodo Nischan examine issues particular to the Lutheran and Reformed traditions. Senn looks at the tension between the reforming Swedish monarchy and the Catholic populace who were resistant to radical changes in the eucharistie liturgy. Nischan points to the role of the concrete fixtures such as altars and altarpieces in defining theological meaning, either in emphasizing continuity (Lutheran) or in pressing change (Reformed).

Recent scholarship has regained an understanding of the importance of what is sometimes termed paraliturgical or extraliturgical.

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