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  • The Front-Runner of the Catholic Reformation: The Life and Works of Johann von Staupitz
  • Kirsi Stjerna
The Front-Runner of the Catholic Reformation: The Life and Works of Johann von Staupitz. By Franz Posset. [St Andrews Studies in Reformation History.] (Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishers. 2003. Pp. xxii, 398. $104.95.)

Franz Posset's 2003 book on the life and works of Johann Staupitz is ambitious and provocative. The book is written with the premise that Johann Staupitz, the Vicar-General of the Augustinian Order in Germany in the time of Martin Luther, whose mentor and spiritual father he became, has been underappreciated in the story of the sixteenth-century Reformations. Staupitz was not only a forerunner, argues Posset against previous studies, but rather he was the front-runner of the Reformation. Furthermore, in terms of theological originality, he was on a par with Martin Luther.

Going as far as to ask, "Is Staupitz the Reformation?" Posset answers, "Yes and no." Yes because "he is an exponent of what is usually associated with the [End Page 145] Reformation theological principles of 'grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone.' No, because he was not a proponent of nationalistic German anti-Roman politics." He was a "critical thinker," but he "remained loyal to the church" (p.1, also p. 373). Nevertheless, "All in all, without Staupitz and his reform efforts there probably would not have been the Reformation in Germany as we know it" (p. 379).

These statements are based on observations on, first, the close mentoring relationship between Luther and Staupitz and their shared spiritual concerns, and, second, the "five Staupizian axioms": Staupitz' recorded sermons (e.g., Advents sermons in Nuremberg 1516, Tübingen sermons on Job 1497/98, Advents sermons in Munich 1518) reveal a definite scripture-based theology, Christo-centric spirituality (surrounding the Sweet Savior), and a doctrine of unmerited salvation through divine grace alone, through faith alone, and resulting in good works (p. 376).

In addition to highlighting the merits and sweetness of Staupitz' theology that indeed justifies for him the title of a reformer, Posset points out that throughout his career, the preacher also assumed a role of a reformer in practice as well: he acted upon his vision for reform of the religious life of the friars, of spirituality and pastoral care of his time, and of the university education in Wittenberg.

One of the many contributions of the book is that it brings to daylight the significant place of Johann Staupiz in the many currents of medieval theology and pastoral practice. Staupitz is presented as an innovative voice in monastic and devotional theology, as well as in other fronts. The book clearly demonstrates not only his formative influence on the young friar Luther—even characterizing Luther as "Staupitzian" (p. 373)—but also does justice to the genius of Staupitz's own theology of grace, including his insights into predestination and undeserved justification. In Posset's treatment Luther's initial reformatory discoveries seem perhaps less original.

Posset offers a painstakingly detailed study of Staupitz' role as the reformer in the Augustinians Order and in the landscape of late medieval monastic theology and follows Staupitz development as a "Sermonizer," "Reformator," "friend of Humanists," and an extraordinary provider of pastoral care. The intimate lasting friendship between the men is carefully examined and the role of Staupitz uplifted from the shadow of Luther, with an attempt to explain where and how the two men eventually parted ways—if they did. The two theologians obviously differed in respect to their eventual attitudes toward the papacy, the binding of monastic vows, and, most of all, their actual involvement in ecclesial reforms. One became disassociated from the Catholic Church and emerged as a leader toward practical changes leading into formation of new confessional groups, whereas the other focused on spiritual renewal within the Catholic tradition and remained an observant in regard to the call for wider institutional reforms. One has been credited—or blamed—as the Reformer, [End Page 146] whereas the other played a lower-key yet significant pioneering role through his areas of expertise: preaching and Seelsorge. The fact that Staupitz eventually resigned from his office (1520) in...


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