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  • Michael Helding (1506–1561): Ein Bischof im Dienst von Kirche und Reich by Peter M. Seidel
  • Ralph Keen
Michael Helding (1506–1561): Ein Bischof im Dienst von Kirche und Reich. By Peter M. Seidel. [Reformationsgeschichtliche Studien und Texte, Band 157.] (Münster: Aschendorff Verlag. 2012. Pp. xviii, 429. €59,00. 978-3-402-11581-7.)

Prince-bishop of Merseburg during the critical 1550s, Michael Helding had been a participant in the colloquies of Worms (1540–41) and Regensburg (1546), [End Page 146] and one of the theological diplomats in the events leading up to the Council of Trent, in which he also participated. In this revision of a Freiburg im Breisgau dissertation we have the first comprehensive assessment of Helding’s career since Erich Feifel’s (Wiesbaden, 1962). New research on episodes in which Helding was involved, such as the 1548 Interim controversy, has brought the activities of peers and adversaries alike into focus. Peter Seidel’s thorough and substantial monograph, based on archival sources in Vienna, Würzburg, and Merseburg as well as the printed record, contextualizes and clarifies the work of an important member of the hierarchy.

As a member of the cathedral chapter in Mainz, Helding was involved in the politics of Empire and Church. Seidel adds Helding to the narratives of Hubert Jedin and Konrad Repgen, revealing him to be a significant partner of Julius Pflug and Pedro Malvenda at Regensburg (1546) and with these two along with Eberhard Billick and Pedro de Soto at Augsburg in the creation of the Interim. The idea of a compromise formula for liturgy, controversial on both sides of the confessional division, had its origin in the 1546 collaboration between Helding and Pflug to produce a “Vergleichsformel.” Pfllug’s part in the process has been well known, but the story has been incomplete due to scant knowledge of Helding’s role.

At Merseburg Helding led a Catholic minority in a Protestant landscape. Merseburg was part of the province of Magdeburg and became Lutheran when George III von Anhalt converted to Protestantism. Helding’s appointment as bishop was part of an effort to return Merseburg, along with Pflug’s Naumburg, to Catholicism. Strong resistance from the cathedral chapter and from George von Anhalt limited Helding’s efforts to restore religious practice to the Roman norm.

After the Religious Peace of Augsburg, Helding became counselor to King Ferdinand and a participant, along with Peter Canisius and others, in the 1557 Colloquy of Worms, contending with Philipp Melanchthon, then under attack from fellow evangelicals. More significant was his service in the imperial chamber court from 1558 to 1561. Religious issues were within the jurisdiction of this body, which undertook a revision of the procedure for church visitations.

Long regarded as one of the mediating theologians during a time of division between moderates and reactionaries, Helding was a constructive theologian attentive to pastoral concerns. The categories of Reform Catholicism and mediating theology are being refined by recent research. Seidel’s “typological ordering” of Helding’s work clarifies Helding’s place in the reformist camp and the meaning of “mediation” that was operative among its leaders. Helding’s opposition to division is evident in his preaching, in which he advocates a critical self-assessment within the Church in the interest of unity.

By pursuing systematic points in Helding’s pastoral and exegetical works, Seidel uncovers a theological creativity that has escaped earlier investigators. Knowledge of scripture in its original languages, the union of exegesis and philology, doctrine presented rhetorically rather than as dialectic: these are the values [End Page 147] guiding Helding as pastor and theologian. Helding shares Desiderius Erasmus’s view of the centrality of faith and the conception of the Church as a spiritual community extending over time. Seidel’s exposition of Helding’s catechetical work shows us a reformist theologian fully aware of the pastoral needs of the laity during a time of controversy.

His position as bishop notwithstanding, Helding’s vocation was that of the preacher, and his important works stem from that activity. In this he stands apart from better-known contemporaries and offers a case study in episcopal and pastoral activity. Long a cipher even to specialists...


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