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  • Johannes Mathesius (1504–1565): Rezeption und Verbreitung der Wittenberger Reformation durch Predigt und Exegese ed. by Armin Kohnle and Irene Dingel
  • Austra Reinis
Johannes Mathesius (1504–1565): Rezeption und Verbreitung der Wittenberger Reformation durch Predigt und Exegese. Edited by Armin Kohnle and Irene Dingel. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlangsanstalt, 2107. 380 pp.

Having studied theology in Wittenberg under Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon, in 1532 Johannes Mathesius moved to the Bohemian silver-mining town of Joachimsthal (today Jachymov in the Czech Republic) to become principal of the Latin school. Later, as pastor, Mathesius introduced and consolidated the Lutheran Reformation in this town's churches and schools. He is best remembered for his lively sermons, published in numerous editions. Most popular was his substantial collection of sermons on Martin Luther's life and work, which became one of the earliest "biographies" of the Wittenberg Reformer.

The present volume brings together the research presented at two spring colloquies on the history of the Wittenberg Reformation (Frühjahrstagungen zur Geschichte der Wittenberger Reformation), held in Wittenberg in 2004 and 2014, respectively. It reviews and updates the scholarship on this prominent alumnus of the [End Page 216] University of Wittenberg, and in doing so, contributes to elucidating the significance of Martin Luther's colleagues and students in the development and spread of the Reformation movement (5–7). The five parts of the volume are dedicated, respectively, to previous biographical treatments of Mathesius, his relationships to Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon, his career as pastor and preacher in Joachimsthal, his preaching and pastoral care, and his relationship to art and music. A review of two of the essays will exemplify the perspectives the new research opens on Mathesius's career and preaching as well as more generally on the early spread of the Reformation.

Martin Wernisch explores the complex political and religious situation of the congregation in Joachimsthal. The town had been founded in 1516 for the purpose of exploiting the silver in the surrounding mountains. It lay in Bohemia, a kingdom where both Catholics and Utraquists, descendants of Jan Hus (c. 1369–1415), had legal recognition. For most of Mathesius's tenure in Joachimsthal however, Bohemia was ruled by King Ferdinand I of Habsburg (1503–64) (108–9), a staunch Catholic who would have preferred that his subjects share his faith. Most of the inhabitants of the town, however, along with the local nobility, were sympathetic to the Lutheran Reformation. Given the profitability of the mines, Ferdinand chose to tolerate the spread and establishment of Lutheranism. In part to avoid unnecessary conflict with the king, Mathesius retained many traditional worship practices that Lutheran congregations elsewhere rejected, for example, chants and readings in Latin and the observance of Marian feasts (113). After the Schmalkaldic War, however, and the defeat of the Protestants by Emperor Charles V in 1547, Ferdinand began to drive out Lutheran leaders; Mathesius retained his position only because the emperor wished to avoid unrest in the silver mines (134–35). Given the chronically unstable political situation in Bohemia, Mathesius's prolific preaching and publishing activity is all the more astounding.

Marco Frenschkowski focuses on Mathesius's preaching, asking, in particular, whether his Historia Vnsers lieben Herren vnd Heylands Jesu Christi, Gottes vnd Marien Son may be considered an early historical-critical biography of Jesus. The Historia is a two-volume [End Page 217] collection of sermons Mathesius preached specifically on the life of Jesus; it was published after his death by his son Johannes Mathesius the Younger in Nuremberg (1568–79) (273–74). Frenschkowski finds that Mathesius understood the need to contextualize Jesus historically and geographically; to do this he made use of the writings of Josephus and of contemporaries who had travelled to Palestine. While in this sense Mathesius's sermons may be considered biographical, they are most certainly not critical in the sense of radically questioning the traditional narratives of Jesus (283–84).

While shedding new light on the career and work of an influential early Lutheran pastor, this insightful volume raises questions for future scholars to ask about the careers of other second-generation Reformers. What political and economic circumstances contributed to the success of each individual's reforming...


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