4. Ordering Discourse and Society: Moral Politics, Marriage, and Fornication during the Reformation and the Confessionalization Process in Germany and Switzerland
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chapter 4 Ordering Discourse and Society: Moral Politics, Marriage, and Fornication during the Reformation and the Confessionalization Process in Germany and Switzerland Susanna Burghartz Introduction n 1540 the Zürich Reformer and successor to Zwingli, Heinrich Bullinger, complained vehemently of the “grave sins and shameless vices that have alas multiplied greatly and grown rampant among many in this recent and most perilous time.” In what followed, he specifically mentioned adultery, fornication (Hurerei), and all manner of impurities such as vile language and unchaste deeds. According to him, the cause of the terrible state of society must be sought in the fundamental semantic disorder of his age: “The reason for all this is that the vices no longer bear their proper names and therefore no one judges them properly as they are upon themselves and before God.”1 The Reformers saw this sorry state of affairs reflected not least in gender relations, whose ambiguity and disorderly nature they regarded as a central threat to their world. These were the roots of the struggle against sexual misconduct that was to become so typical of both the Protestant andCatholicReformmovements.Thisstruggle,sovigorouslypropagatedbyReformers, reveals the fundamental significance that they accorded to the power of naming and definition, particularly in the area of morality and sin. For the Reformers, moral politics was no mere secondary arena, but rather a central means of attaining social power and control.2 The clerical discussions surrounding (clerical) marriage and fornication thus led to a fundamental reorientation of the theology of matrimony,3 which put “the entire social order to the test.”4 78 I Spierenburg_Vol_1_Ch_4_3rd.qxd 6/22/2004 2:39 PM Page 78 With their rhetoric of Un-Zucht (lewdness or fornication, but literally “undiscipline ”), the Reformers succeeded in establishing their polemical speech about the immorality of their age as a description of reality. In so doing, they set up as absolute their own dividing line between marriage and illicit sexuality, with no room left for transitions or intermediate forms, let alone a third option like chastity. At the same time, they created a yardstick that has largely been adopted by historians to assess behavior in the areas of marriage and sexuality and that implicitly remains alive and well in the concept of social discipline. The history of the social control and disciplining of gender relations, marriage, and sexuality thus becomes a history not just of behaviors and their changes, but equally of perceptions and standards of judgment and demarcation, including their inherent powers of definition. Mary Douglas has drawn our attention to the important function of notions of purity as social boundaries and taboos.5 Social order is established with their help and maintained by means of their permanent reformulation . Accordingly, talk about pure, undefiled sexuality within marriage and its strict separation from all possible forms of illegitimate, “indecent,” and thus impure sexuality outside marriage assumed an important function in Reformed debates about a new social order and its realization. As Douglas shows elsewhere, the “purity principle” has played a key role in conflicts between the center and periphery of society in various historical configurations.6 Such conflicts are often fought out as struggles between orthodoxy and heterodoxy . The struggles between Reformers and the Catholic Church were also often pursued with the weapons of the purity discourse. In this fight there was, however, no obvious victor, since in the course of the Reformation no clear new center emerged. Instead, after the establishment of the Reformation, various confessional centers spent centuries competing to embody orthodoxy. This permanent competition unleashed a discursive dynamism of its own that became historically effective, if not always in the ways intended by those involved. Against this conceptual background, we can analyze moral politics, its developments and booms, during the reformation period and the confessionalization process—that is, from the early fifteenth century to the beginning of the eighteenth century— simultaneously on the level of discourses, institutions, and actions.7 The question of control and discipline is then no longer limited to the level of behavior, but rather incorporates perceptions and judgments as well. The history of structures and discourses can thus be applied to the arena of marriage, sexuality, and gender relations. Order, like disorder, is revealed to be the result of permanent historical effort. Both are thus the consequence of historical processes of construction . In this way, the alleged moral disorder of the Reformation period is interpreted not simply as an absence of order, as “immorality,” but rather as an interested ascription within...


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