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  • Religionsstreitigkeiten: Volkssprachliche Kontroversen zwischen altgläubigen und evangelischen Theologen im 16. Jahrhundert
  • Wim Janse
Kai Bremer . Religionsstreitigkeiten: Volkssprachliche Kontroversen zwischen altgläubigen und evangelischen Theologen im 16. Jahrhundert. Frühe Neuzeit: Studien und Dokumente zur deutschen Literatur und Kultur im europäischen Kontext 104. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 2005. x + 330 pp. index. illus. bibl. €82. ISBN: 3-484-36604-4.

Religionsstreitigkeiten is an astute study of rhetorical and cultural-historical aspects of sixteenth-century religious polemics in the German language. In 2002 the book served as a dissertation in Germanic studies at the Philosophical Faculty at Göttingen University. According to the author, "religious strife" has been rather neglected by social historians, unlike "religious peace." Bremer wants to trace "by what means, both as regards medium and language, people argued on religion, and what goals may be deduced from the selection of these means" (5).

The study is divided into three parts. On the basis of four cases, part 1 focuses on rhetorical structure, technique, duration, and goals of vernacular religious polemics, plus profiles of the protagonists. First, Bremer looks at the controversy between Hieronymus Emser (called "the Leipzig goat" by his opponent) and Martin Luther (called "the Wittenberg bull" by Emser) about Luther's An den Christlichen Adel deutscher nation (1520). Not without humor Bremer compares Emser to the hare in the fairy tale who lost a race to the shrewd hedgehog — in this case Luther, who, by continuously adopting different polemical genres, left his scholastic opponent standing. The second case is that of the convert Friedrich Staphylus versus his former professor Philip Melanchthon and Jacob Andreae, a dispute caused by Staphylus's caricature of Luther's theology, Theologiae Martini Lutheri Trimembris Epitome (1558; German translation 1575). This conflict reflects the appreciation of the vernacular in Catholic apologetics. Next, Bremer discusses the attack on Lucas Osiander's Warnung Vor der Jesuiter blut durstigen Anschlägen unnd bösen Practicken (1585) by the Jesuits Georg Scherer and Christoph Rosenbusch, and, finally, the conflict between the Jesuit Peter Michael Brillmacher and the Calvinist Johann von Münster. Each tried to win over the Westphalian nobility to his own denomination. Since Von Münster belonged to that class, Brillmacher was forced to use a nonaggressive strategy.

In part 2, some cultural and sociological dimensions of vernacular religious [End Page 575] polemics have been abstracted from part 1. The main multipliers of the confessional differences were the readers. These came from the polemicists' own group of supporters. The authors did not set out to convince opponents, but rather to "collectivize" their supporters: forcing doubters to choose a position stimu-lated group cohesion. Bremer here leans on the classical sociological process analysis by Georg Simmel (1908), who characterized "strife" as a constructive "Vergesellschaftungsform" (216). The primary addressees of the Catholic vernacular polemics were the clergy with little or no academic training; the aim was to provide them with model answers for the interconfessional debate. Many reprints did not mean a wide circulation: by means of subsidies, Catholic printers were forced to overproduce, sometimes caused by feelings of inferiority because of Protestant successes.

Bremer distinguishes five dimensions of polemics. In addition to the theological aspect, there often was a political agenda to the conflict as well, for instance by promoting a dynasty from which support for the confessionalization was expected. There was also an authoritative dimension: creating a profile as a guide in the flood of polemical writings; a triumphal dimension, to demonstrate confessional superiority; and, finally, a linguistic dimension. Unintentionally, the polemic sometimes caused the rise of a separate literary language, for instance in the Catholic south of Germany, which contributed to demarcation or solidarization, respectively. Surprisingly, Bremer does not observe what Guy Stroumsa has dubbed "the transformational character of polemics" ("Anti-Cathar Polemics and the Liber De Duobus Principiis," in Religionsgespräche im Mittelalter, ed. Bernard Lewis and Friedrich Niewöhner [1992], 170), that is, the transformation of doctrine by mimesis achieved through polemic argumentation.

Of course, conflict did not remain limited to pamphlets and brochures. Part 3 offers an inventory of other means of rhetorical propaganda, such as conversion reports (after 1550 these lose the original pathetic confessional...


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pp. 575-576
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