Catechisms and cataclysms : communication in the Reformation
Author(s)McEvilly, Christine A. (Christine Ann)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. History Section.
Anne E.C. McCants.
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How does belief shape lived experience? This is a central question of existence that all people confront, be they philosophers or farmers. It is not simply a matter of religious belief but a problem that stems from the very core of what it means to be human. Who could decide how to spend their lives without defining priorities? Yet such profound choices are necessarily based on implicit beliefs, valuations of worth and existence. The Reformation period in early modem Europe shines a particularly bright light upon these fundamental questions. Once Martin Luther nailed his Thesis to the church door in Wittenberg in 1517, and in the religious turmoil of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that followed, no one could avoid considering basic questions about their faith, even if only to defend what had been the status quo. Furthermore, the personal beliefs of Martin Luther and his German princes became a subject that could change the political course of nations. It was in Martin Luther's crucible of religious turmoil that personal belief and government began to shape each other in drastic and visible ways, an interaction which not only emphasizes the importance of belief, but also highlights the problem of popular beliefs, which are difficult to discern in times of religious quietude. But why examine belief? Are there not other more visible expressions of historical change? Ultimately, history is about individuals. One can examine the great political and economic trends of nations, but they only have meaning as they relate to individual existence. What is a modern nation state, if not a collection of its citizens and of how they live, work, interact, and think? Examining the religious beliefs of a society allows one to look at thought and actions in those who were far removed from "high" intellectual culture; for the thoughts of those who composed the massive majority of European society cannot be ignored simply because they were not always expressed in easily retrieved written discourses. Luckily, since theologians, politicians, and activists tried to influence popular belief, their records can be examined. The methods used to influence belief and practice, suggest not only what was in fact believed, but also what topics were of central concern to society's dialogue on religious change. Belief can have power over forces and institutions far larger than any single believing individual. Indeed, the very idea that religion is an issue of concern to individuals and not defined at the level of a city or nation was a novel one in the early modem era. Not surprisingly, and such a fundamental change in the concept of the individual had widespread consequences. This work examines the transmission of reformation ideas from scholars and theologians to lay parishioners in both the Protestant and Catholic traditions. It considers how large scale revolutions in religious thought affected the lives, piety, and religious practice of ordinary individuals. Yet the examination of this theme of transmission and communication is ultimately just a small part of one of the questions that historians have debated: Can the Reformation period be seen as offering up a true division into two different religions, or should it be seen as a moment during which both Catholic and Protestant traditions modernized in parallel to each other? Of course, both views contain some elements of truth; both churches managed to modernize, but nevertheless had fundamental differences in both theology and practice. However, an equally vital question is, perhaps, whether the churches' interactions with society were characterized by the differences between them or by the similar, modern forms both churches shared. This work ultimately suggests that the differences that had developed between Catholic and Protestant traditions by the mid seventeenth century are dwarfed by the changes in both that converted medieval practice to a more modem system. These modem religious traditions would come to co-exist with modern nation states, evolving economic practice, re-defined communities, and the secularization of Europe. Similarities in Protestant and Catholic communication of new theology and reformed practice can be identified and traced, lending support to the theory of parallel reform with similar outcomes, particularly in terms of community and state, even if their respective theologies contained real differences. Communication provides a useful lens for examining this question of difference and modernization since it involves many elements of the two reformed traditions. The choice of what information was to be transmitted, suggests which new theologies the churches thought significant and which were important to the contentious dialogues of the period. The forms of communication speak to the regular functioning of the church as an organization, and suggest how authority figures interacted with their laity. The composition of the audience suggests the new community definitions of each church. This essay will examine three mediums for communicating the agenda of reform in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries: architecture and visual art, education, and discipline and charity, insofar as they defined community ...
Thesis (S.B.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences [SHASS], History Section, 2007.Includes bibliographical references (leaves 87-88).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. History Section.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. History Section.