The Reformation of Suffering: Pastoral Theology and Lay Piety in Late Medieval and Early Modern Germany

The Reformation of Suffering: Pastoral Theology and Lay Piety in Late Medieval and Early Modern Germany

The Reformation of Suffering: Pastoral Theology and Lay Piety in Late Medieval and Early Modern Germany

The Reformation of Suffering: Pastoral Theology and Lay Piety in Late Medieval and Early Modern Germany

Synopsis

Protestant reformers sought to effect a radical change in the way their contemporaries understood and coped with the suffering of body and soul that were so prominent in the early modern period. The reformers did so because they believed that many traditional approaches to suffering were not sufficiently Christian--that is, they thought these approaches were unbiblical. The Reformation of Suffering examines the Protestant reformation of suffering and shows how it was a central part of the larger Protestant effort to reform church and society. Despite its importance, no other text has directly examined this reformation of suffering. This book investigates the history of Christian reflection on suffering and consolation in the Latin West and places the Protestant reformation campaign within this larger context, paying close attention to important continuities and discontinuities between Catholic and Protestant traditions.

Focusing especially on Wittenberg Christianity, The Reformation of Suffering examines the genesis of Protestant doctrines of suffering among the leading reformers and then traces the transmission of these doctrines from the reformers to the common clergy. It also examines the reception of these ideas by lay people. The text underscores the importance of consolation in early modern Protestantism and seeks to challenge a scholarly trend that has emphasized the themes of discipline and control in Wittenberg Christianity. It shows how Protestant clergymen and burghers could be remarkably creative and resourceful as they sought to convey solace to one another in the midst of suffering and misfortune. The Protestant reformation of suffering had a profound impact on church and society in the early modern period and contributed significantly to the shape of the modern world.

Excerpt

Suffering is as old as humanity, at least humanity “east of Eden.” The opening chapters of Genesis, which speak of a pristine creation free of suffering and death, do so in large part because they wish to emphasize that life as human beings know it is not what it either could or should be, and this is not good—suffering is not good, although it may serve to promote the good. Thus, Genesis moves very quickly to the “fall” of humanity and insists that while humanity longs for Eden, paradise has been lost. The sacred texts and stories of the vast majority of human cultures similarly embrace the fact of suffering along with the need to make some sense of it. Human beings are deeply averse to meaninglessness, and therefore, from time immemorial, we have engaged in efforts to secure a measure of significance or value for our lives in the face of the meaning-destroying forces of suffering and death. Such efforts have played a central role in the development of human culture and society down through the centuries. Each society has included certain people who have taken on the weighty task of finding order in the midst of the chaos unleashed by suffering and have then sought to commend (or command) this nomos to others. As the German philosopher Max Scheler once observed, “A doctrine on the meaning of pain and suffering was, in all lands, at all times, in the whole world, at the core of the teachings and directives which the great religious and philosophical thinkers gave to men. On this meaning was built an instruction and an invitation to encounter suffering correctly, to suffer properly.”

In the premodern West, the primary creators and purveyors of doctrines of suffering were the Christian clergy. It is they who sought to render suffering meaningful to themselves and their contemporaries. It is they who endeavored to teach others how to suffer properly, and it is they who sought to reprove their contemporaries when they failed to do so. But the clergy did not always teach the same thing about suffering, nor did they recommend the same ways of coping with it. Their doctrines of suffering changed over time, and these changes had profound implications for both church and society, affecting nearly every aspect of human life. This book examines what was arguably the most important change in the . . .

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