Author: Davis, Thomas J
Date published: March 1, 2013
Journal code: PCHH
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Book Reviews and Notes
Amy Nelson Burnett's newest book is a delight to read: it is well researched, clearly organized, and elegantly written. What is more, as the title indicates, it gives us insight into the circulation of ideas, which provides a foundation for better understanding the context of the early eucharistic controversies. The work focuses on the years between 1518 and 1525. These are important years because it is here, Burnett argues, that one finds the link between late eucharistic theology and piety and the development of the various Protestant articulations and practices of eucharistic celebration.
Burnett signals that the volume has three goals. The first is to look in detail at quite varied interpretations of eucharistic theology in this early time period. Though it is easy to slide into the eucharistic controversies by focusing on the conflict between Luther and Zwingli (though they, of course, make substantive appearances herein), Burnett patiently moves through the thought of a number of reformers who oftentimes receive only passing attention; for example, such figures as Zwilling, Hoen, and Schwenkfeld. Indeed, the chapter that traces the Hussite influences (note the plural; there was a wide spectrum of thought among those who stood in the spiritual line of Hus) is a model chapter. It examines the complicated web of relationships between strands of Hussite thought and others engaged in the early eucharistic conflicts, exhibiting a welcomed combination of clarity and brevity. Thanks to Burnett's work, one comes away with a much greater appreciation for the heady mix of theology, exegesis, and piety that surrounded eucharistic discussion in these early years. In a word, it is the variety in work and method that is underscored. Though the Protestant theologians, pastors, and educated laity who opposed Luther's treatment of the sacrament shared some things in common (such as the denial of Christ's corporeal presence in the elements of bread and wine), what Burnett brings out is how they differed as well. Indeed, in a very helpful table in chapter six (136-37), there is a summary that compares Hoen, Karlstadt, Luther, Zwingli/Oecolampadius, and Schwenkfeld/Crautwald on a host of issues, including the interpretation each brought to the words of institution, the hermeneutical key each used, the varying interpretations of John 6:63, the dominant metaphor at work in the eucharist, the chief purpose of the sacrament, the chief actor involved, and how each understood a number of other scriptural passages relevant to the theology and practice of the Lord's Supper. Among other things, this is a great classroom resource for those who deal with the sixteenth-century eucharistic controversies in their teaching.
The second goal of the book is to explore how the ideas developed by the participants in early eucharistic polemics were "understood, modified, and passed along." She continues, "I am interested not only in what was said but in how , why , and when it was said, in combining an elucidation of the theological arguments with an investigation into the historical developments" (5). Thus, while the first goal deals with the ideas found in the origins of the eucharistic controversies, the second has to do with the circulation of ideas. In fact, the book is also about where things were said--or, at least, printed. Burnett is interested in the public aspect of the discussion, and how these public ideas were transmitted so that they could circulate and interact with the ideas, positions, and arguments of the time. Therefore, she examines the printing history especially of the pamphlets as they were published--looking at the when, the where, and the number of printings of pamphlets. Again, one finds a handy table that presents the number of titles and imprints on the mass in respective years (38); a pie chart (118) details places of publication for the eucharistic pamphlets. Among the several points emphasized, an important one is how much an advantage Luther and his colleagues had in the number of pamphlets published and the geographic range of the printing centers that made them available. This is a very material aspect of the circulation of ideas that is often overlooked; the playing field, so to speak, was not an even one as these ideas moved about in the early Protestant milieu. And move about they did, perhaps starting as ideas within the university but then blanketing public places so that those who could read--and those read to by others--might then adopt, adapt, or reject what the pamphleteers had to offer and incorporate those ideas into their own religious practices.
In this volume, the importance of Karlstadt is brought to the fore as both catalyst and product of new articulations of this most important topic of sixteenth century thought. Indeed, it is the third goal of Burnett's book, and one she is well prepared to undertake, given her recent book that presents, with introduction, the eucharistic pamphlets of Karlstadt (The Eucharistic Pamphlets of Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt , Early Modern Studies 6 (Kirksville, Mo.: Truman State University Press, 2011). With a deft hand, she provides both a clear summary of Karlstadt's thought and a balanced treatment of his interactions with other early Protestant reformers. Burnett takes Karlstadt seriously as a thoughtful contributor to these early eucharistic discussions among the emerging Protestant thinkers, and it is a welcomed change. Her treatment of his exegetical impulses is especially insightful.
In sum, this book is a substantial contribution to the literature of Reformation studies, combining as it does the seriousness with which she takes the theological arguments and the importance she gives to the social environment in which those ideas circulated. In addition, the notes are a treasure trove, and they are a sure and trustworthy guide to the literature and historical arguments that surround this most interesting and important topic in sixteenth-century studies. To reiterate, this book is, indeed, a delight to read.
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis