The Confessionalization of Humanism in Reformation Germany

By Tracy, James D. | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2002 | Go to article overview

The Confessionalization of Humanism in Reformation Germany


Tracy, James D., The Catholic Historical Review


The Confessionalization of Humanism in Reformation Germany. By Erika Rummel. [Oxford Studies in Historical Theology.] (New York: Oxford University Press. 2000. Pp. vii, 211. $45.00.)

This book explores what happened to humanist scholars in the Germanspeaking lands of the Holy Roman Empire between about 1520 and 15 50, as the Reformation took hold. Professor Rummel argues first that the idea of humanism and Protestantism making common cause against scholastic obscurantism, though based on a misunderstanding of fundamental differences between the two movements, was nonetheless promoted by zealots on both sides, Catholics hoping to tar humanist critics of the Church with the brush of heresy, and Evangelicals hoping to win over as yet uncommitted admirers of Erasmus. Partisans of humanist ideas of reform, unable to accept dogmatism on either side, withdrew into a dignified silence, or pretended conformism-the so-called Nicodemite option. Meanwhile, although devout pedagogues claimed to carry forward the humanist program of education, they in fact subordinated broad ideals of Erasmus and Petrarch to narrow doctrinal and moral aims. Finally, the idea of a peaceful accommodation between the rival doctrines, a natural outgrowth of the Christian skepticism that was inherent in the humanist tradition, was drowned amid the din of increasingly strident theological battles.

Professor Rummel knows the humanist movement of the early sixteenth century as well as or better than anyone, and along the way she offers much interesting detail about forgotten scholars and controversies. Nonetheless, the main arguments fall short. First, given the time limits, this cannot be a book about "confessionalization," since in 1550 the state-supported indoctrination that Reformation scholars describe under that heading was just getting under way. Instead, it is a book about how the liberal intellectual outlook of humanist pedagogy was shunted aside by rival dogmatisms. But one cannot make such a case without taking into account that schools are institutions. A Christoph von Hegendorf will indeed seem narrow-minded if his treatises are compared with those of Petrarch or Erasmus, neither of whom ever stood before a room full of the unruly sons of pious burghers. …

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