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  • Magistrates, Madonnas and Miracles. The Counter Reformation in the Upper Palatinate
  • Philip M. Soergel
Magistrates, Madonnas and Miracles. The Counter Reformation in the Upper Palatinate. By Trevor Johnson. [St. Andrews Studies in Reformation History.] (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing. 2009. Pp. xvi, 354. $124.95. ISBN 978-0-754-66480-2.)

In the short period that he was a graduate mentor at Cambridge during the 1980s and 1990s, Bob Scribner trained a brilliant stable of early-modern German historians. As a group, they have ensured Great Britain's continued prominence in the field for at least another generation, as well as the ongoing fertility of Scribner's methods of historical investigation. Among these scholars, Trevor Johnson proved to have an eye for the highly unusual and distinctive, as evidenced in a number of articles he published in the early years of his career. Specialists thus anxiously awaited the publication of his first book. Unfortunately on June 25, 2007, Johnson died suddenly, claimed by an undiagnosed congenital heart defect.

This volume presents the text of Johnson's study of religious change in the early-modern Upper Palatinate, largely as it stood at the time of the author's death. The Upper Palatinate's tortured sixteenth- and seventeenth-century confessional history has long called out for treatment in English, for in the course of the later sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries, the state changed its confessional allegiance no fewer than seven times among Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism. Eventually, as a result of the misfortunes of its ruler, Frederick V, the "winter king" of Bohemia, the Upper Palatinate reverted to Bavaria, and in the 1620s a careful process of Wittelsbach reconversion began that was to continue for much of the rest of the seventeenth century.

Of the three religions practiced in the state in the period before the reconversion, Johnson found that Calvinism seemed to have had the least appeal, setting down only shallow roots in places where the nobility favored Frederick's policies. The rigors of its reforms had never appeared particularly attractive to most Oberpfälzer, who lived in a remote region, where a rich lore of lay practice had long been of almost equal importance to the highly structured liturgical religion practiced in parish churches. Certain Lutheran reforms—most notably hymn singing and the wedding rite—had been actively embraced in this milieu; yet as Lionel Rothkrug once argued in his controversial Holy Shrines, Religious Dissonance and Satan in the Origins of the German Reformation (Waterloo, Can., 1987), Johnson sees that many Protestant reforms faced strong headwinds from perceptions that singled out the preservation of home and community as the proper sphere of religion. [End Page 810]

Yet for Counter-Reformation Catholicism to be firmly established, parishes needed to be restocked with clergy devoted to the catechization of the laity in the specifics of Catholic teaching and ritual practice. In addition, monasteries and convents needed to be rebuilt, seminaries constructed, and the network of Catholic sodalities built up that would serve as an enduring wellspring of affection for the early-modern Church. To accomplish these long-term goals, the Wittelsbach state at first proceeded slowly, only replacing Lutheran and Calvinist ministers when their livings fell vacant and allowing Lutherans to be buried in church yards upon application to the state. Interim-like measures, which gave nods to certain innovations of the Protestants in worship, were another tool by which evangelicals found re-admission to the Catholic Church. Such measures found a degree of resistance among the local nobility, many of whom remained tied to the territory's former duke, the ill-fated Frederick. Yet over time, the patience the state evidenced bore fruit. By the fourth quarter of the seventeenth century, the Wittelsbach state saw the task of re-Catholicization as largely complete.

Johnson's study thus reads as a fascinating case study of a region that had one of the most controversial histories of reform and counter-reform in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is lamentable that this text, so admirably edited by Simon Ditchfield and Raingard Esser, represents the author's final word, for as this volume shows, this would have been a career of unique...


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