Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Tactics of Toleration. A Refugee Community in the Age of Religious Wars

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Tactics of Toleration. A Refugee Community in the Age of Religious Wars

Article excerpt

The Tactics of Toleration. A Refugee Community in the Age of Religious Wars. By Jesse Spohnholz. (Newark: University of Delaware Press. 2011. Pp. 334. $80.00. ISBN 978-1-611-49034-3.)

The Tactics of Toleration examines religious coexistence and toleration in the German city of Wesel in the second half of the sixteenth century. Spohnholz argues that both elites and common folk in Wesel generally supported a pragmatic set of policies that allowed Lutherans, Calvinist s, Catholics, and Anabaptists to live together in the city. Importantly for historians' understanding of this period, this coexistence was founded on a creative tension between the confessional identity of each religious group and a broad sense that communal peace depended on a sense of Christian unity demonstrated in shared religious services. This notion of Christian unity was particularly important, but also particularly strained, in Wesel, which was swamped with Dutch (mostly Calvinist) refugees fleeing the Dutch Wars after 1566.

Spohnholz' s clearly written and well-argued study is based on extensive archival work in We sel' s archives. As with any local study of this kind, the archives give Spohnholz a clear sense of the views and policies of the city government and the local elites. The first two chapters, which focus on the Lutheran and Calvinist communities, deal with the relationships among the Lutheran-dominated city council, the Calvinist consistory, and the Lutheran clergy. Here we see the city fathers navigating between religious extremes and resisting calls from hard-line Lutherans to enforce a strict Lutheran line, particularly in the administration of the Eucharist. At the same time, the council worked with the (unofficial) Calvinist consistory to force those refugees with strong Calvinist views to attend church services administered by the Lutheran clergy, while tolerating private Calvinist services.

Catholics and Anabaptists also were allowed to practice their religion in private, as long as they attended public services on a regular basis. The Anabaptists, almost all Mennonites, were generally willing to dissimulate and caused few problems, despite the close oversight of the authorities. The small Catholic minority had the support of the Catholic William, duke of Cleves, and were thus a greater threat to the city than the Anabaptists. A number of monasteries survived the Reformation in Wesel and provided places for Catholic worship, but Wesel Catholics also attended services in the town's two parish churches, maintaining that sense of Christian unity. …

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