- Finding the Middle Way: The Utraquist's Liberal Challenge to Rome and Luther
Zdenĕk David's study of Utraquism and its fate in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries represents a welcome addition to the English-language literature available on the subject. In focusing on the long-term fate of the reformed Bohemian church that resulted from the Hussite rebellion, he situates the Utraquists within the larger cycle of revolt, reform, and repression that marked the religious upheavals of this era. He provides a careful overview of the major works and actors of the Bohemian church whose ideas have been overlooked in mainstream English-language historiography because of the general unfamiliarity with the Czech language and society that produced them. In doing so he demonstrates the unique qualities of the Bohemian church and its mindset, and the degree that it represented an exemplary episode in the evolution of religion in the early modern era. Though some of his claims for the superiority of the Utraquist "model" in comparison to other churches formed in the era are debatable, the work in general opens up new perspectives on the topic and its age.
In his opening chapter David lays out the notion of Bohemian Utraquism as [End Page 631] representing a via media between the bureaucratic and imperious governance of the early modern papacy and the "biblical reductionism" of Luther and Calvin. He signals here his key argument, that the Utraquist church represented a viable alternative to these extremes that modeled a moderate, traditionalist, and patriotic ecclesiology. He intends by this to take issue with the prevalent characterization of the sixteenth-century Utraquist church in modern historiography as either the tool of the Bohemian monarchy and aristocracy or a movement whose relevance was superseded by the more complete reformations of Wittenberg or Geneva. David argues for the relevance and authenticity of Utraquism in the sixteenth century "as a model of a national church, emerging in the milieu of distinctly Western Christianity, and with a traditionalist emphasis on the antiquity and historical continuity of their doctrine and institutions" (1).
After a brief prolegomenon, where he recounts the comparatively familiar story of the Hussite rebellion and its institutionalization in the Utraquist church, David moves to discuss in subsequent chapters the fate of the Utraquist church in the era of the early Reformation, and in particular its response to Luther and the movement that developed in his wake. He emphasizes the stages that marked the interaction between the Bohemian church and Luther. While Luther's own praise for Hus is well known, David focuses on the misunderstood response of the Utraquists to Luther. While fascinated by the phenomenon of a movement so strongly reminiscent of their own origins, the Utraquists were both attracted and repulsed by Luther's example and ideas. They were attracted because he represented another reaction against the "Roman menace," affirmed the righteousness of their own rebellion, ended the Czech isolation in their struggle to gain ecclesiastic autonomy, as well as bore such a striking resemblance to Hus. But David is at pains to stress that doctrinally the Utraquists remained distinct and did not embrace Luther's theology, nor was his rebellion seen as the fulfillment or logical conclusion of their own. The Bohemians' already existing ecclesiastical institutions and theological rationalizations made them self-sufficient. He emphasizes that though curious about Luther's theology and doctrinally broadminded and polite in their approach to divergent theologies, this should not, as has been the case in Protestant historiography, be mistaken for solidarity with or absorption into Luther's movement. He shows the degree to which the prominent theologians of the Utraquist church distinguished themselves theologically from Luther and the other theologies of the Reformation era. Intellectually, David sees the closest correlative to Utraquism among the groupings of the early Reformation era in humanists such as Thomas More and Erasmus.
Over the long term, like any middle way, the Utraquist...