Academic journal article German Quarterly

The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Early Modern Germany: Protestant and Catholic Piety, 1500-1648

Academic journal article German Quarterly

The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Early Modern Germany: Protestant and Catholic Piety, 1500-1648

Article excerpt

Heal, Bridget. The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Early Modern Germany: Protestant and Catholic Piety, 1500-1648. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 338 pp. $99.00 hardcover.

Bridget Heal's work is a thorough case study of Reformation and Counter Reformation Marian piety in three representative cities: Nuremberg, Augsburg, and Cologne. Its origin as a dissertation is evident in the detailed enumeration of artistic and textual sources for each German city. This thorough examination of evidence allows Heal to make a solid contribution by calling into question overstated and simplistic contentions about the role of Mary in the Reformation and demonstrating the multivalent factors affecting Marian devotion and Protestant-Catholic debates. Local history and political exigencies, she argues, were as important as theological partisanship in forming attitudes and behavior surrounding the Virgin. Furthermore, there were wide variations in Marian theology and devotion within, not just between, Protestants and Catholics - authorities and believers alike. A particular strength of the book is the inclusion of many artistic reproductions, strengthening and enriching Heal's analyses of shifts and characteristics in Marian devotion in each locality and confessional context.

Heal sets her stage by reviewing devotion to Mary in late medieval Germany, including some disturbing manifestations of its connection to anti-Semitism. She then examines early Catholic criticism of excesses, for instance by Erasmus, and discussions of Mary by ma jor Reformation thinkers. While Reformers harshly criticized idolatrous Marian devotions, and those that overstated her role to the detraction of Christ's, they often maintained a high Mariology in many respects. Surprisingly, both Luther and Zwingli defended not just her virginal conception of Christ but her perpetual virginity and title of Theotokos; Luther even articulated a theory of her own immaculate conception and cited biblical precedents for the possibility of her assumption. Later reformers were more critical, but continued to discuss and reinterpret scriptural texts that featured Mary, emphasizing her as a model of faith, humility, obethence, and above all as a recipient of unmerited divine grace. These theological foundations made possible the transformation, rather than eradication, of the widespread popular devotion to Christ's mother in many areas of Germany.

Heal's first case study is the thoroughly Protestant city of Nuremberg, the earliest imperial free city to adopt the Lutheran faith. …

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