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  • The Correspondence of Wolfgang Capito Volume 1, 1507-1523
  • Charles G. Nauert
Wolfgang Capito . The Correspondence of Wolfgang Capito Volume 1, 1507–1523. Ed. and trans. Erika Rummel with Milton Kooistra. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005. xlii + 286 pp. index. append. tbls. $95. ISBN: 0–8020–9017–6.

This book is the first of a three-volume English translation of the correspondence of a major figure of Christian (or Erasmian) humanism and the early German Reformation, Wolfgang Fabricius Capito. The letters published here (some in full translation, others in summary) show that although Capito received a traditional scholastic education, by 1516 he had become an admirer of Erasmus. He fully embraced the Erasmian ideal of a religious reform inspired by both classical and Christian antiquity. His unusual mastery of Hebrew as well as Greek and Latin attracted attention, for he was genuinely trilingual. His decision to enter the priesthood and his astute promotion of his own ecclesiastical career led initially to an influential preaching position and a professorship of theology at Basel, where he met Erasmus and became one of the circle of young humanists clustered about the city's major publishers. Then for three years he was the most influential adviser of Albert of Brandenburg, Archbishop-Elector of Mainz. Many of these letters document not only Capito's shrewd manipulation of his princely employer in the interests of Luther and the Erasmian reformers, but also his gradual (and very tardy) transformation from a reform-minded humanist who understood Luther in Erasmian terms into a Lutheran preacher who reluctantly had come over to Luther's conviction that true doctrine, not mere institutional reform and individual piety, was the primary necessity for a genuine reform of religion. Capito drafted many of the policy statements and letters that made Archbishop Albert (the initial target of Luther's protest against indulgences) one of the principal impediments to the summary and decisive action against Luther desired by curial and imperial officials. Capito labored hard to delay the inevitable clash between his archbishop and Luther. By 1523, the last year covered in this volume, he had managed to gain possession of a valuable benefice at Strasbourg that enabled him to leave the archbishop's service and within a few months to come out openly as a supporter of Luther, thus beginning his subsequent career as one of the three ex-humanist preachers who transformed Strasbourg into a major center of German Protestantism.

The editor and translator, Erika Rummel, has long been associated with the Collected Works of Erasmus series published by the same press that produced the present volume. This book shares the handsome typography and clear, rational organization of the Erasmus volumes. Its textual foundation, however, is quite different, for Capito's letters have no equivalent to the great critical edition of Erasmus's correspondence by P. S. Allen. For letters between Capito and Erasmus, Rummel provides a concise summary backed by references to the English text of the Toronto Erasmus and the Latin text of Allen's edition. The originals of the other letters, however, are far less accessible. Some letters survive only in old and scarce publications, or even in unpublished manuscripts. In an ideal world, the present edition would include those Latin texts. Since the economics of modern [End Page 909] publishing make that impossible, Rummel has provided an electronic substitute. The Latin (or German) texts are available on a website that supplements the present book, and there she prints a full English translation. If not an ideal solution, this is at least a practical one, permitting access to each letter. But for original letters that are available in modern critical editions of other contemporaries (Luther, for example), she provides only a summary and a citation of the modern edition. This scheme is not helpful to the reader who does not know the original language, and who gets (both in the book and on the website) only Rummel's summary of those letters. Such references are little help to a reader who cannot read the language of the original. It is regrettable that for such letters the linked website offers only the same summary found on the printed...


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Archived 2009
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