Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion


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This is a much-studied area, but Pettegree does an excellent job of summarizing current research, elucidating the virtues and limitations of the various media the Protestant Churches had at their disposal, and, most importantly, challenging a host of historiographical assumptions and orthodoxies. The book serves as both an informed synthesis and a pointer towards numerous avenues of future research.

It also demonstrates an impressive geographical range, confirming Pettegree's previously articulated commitment to understanding the Reformation as a series of distinct, but interlinked, regional phenomena that shared a common European context. Members of H-Albion will also be pleased to learn that, while Pettegree spends much of his time looking at the Continent, there are numerous references to events and developments in England. The book explores different methods of persuasion in oral, visual, and written culture, always stressing that these realms were constantly informing and shoring up one another.

Essays on Religion, Politics, and the Public Sphere in Early Modern England

It begins at the front line of the Reformation struggle: the pulpit. After a brief summary of the medieval preaching tradition and Pettegree usefully provides medieval context for all of his subjects , we are introduced to an infuriating interpretative obstacle. Typcially, we only have printed often much-edited versions of sixteenth-century sermons; most of what we have of Luther's endless sermonizing, for instance, derives from notes taken by adoring students in his congregations.

How accurately do such texts reflect what was actually said at the time?

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Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion

This presents a crucial issue if we seek to understand how preachers endeavored to win audiences over. As Pettegree explains, we can assert with certainty that preaching provided a platform for clerical activism, while insisting on the appointment of more radical preachers clearly represented some of the Reformation's first instances of lay assertiveness.

We can also gain a decent impression of the themes that were hammered home. Pettegree, in tune with recent scholarship, for instance, stresses that the content of early Lutheran sermons was far more diverse than previously believed.

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Sadly, none of this gets us much closer to knowing what attending an early modern sermon felt like. And that, so far as understanding persuasion is concerned, is terribly important. We will never know, of course; but, Pettegree's analysis does a good job of explaining the different strategies the mingling of terror and reassurance, the blending of sober exegesis and passionate outburst that were available to preachers. There are pithy accounts of the preaching of Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, Calvin, and Heinrich Bullinger, and the innovative nature of the Reformation sermon not least the fact that it became a regular rather than an occasional event is rightly stressed, along with the fact that the leaders of Reformed Churches were as convinced as their medieval forebears that preaching was a sacred, specialized duty, best left to well-trained experts.


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Similarly wide-ranging accounts of drama and song come next. We see how reformers exploited the tradition of medieval carnival plays and fastened upon the burgeoning phenomenon of humanist biblical drama. Theater, in the broadest sense, operated very efficiently, both in the relatively secure homelands of Reform and, as a kind of coded religious dissent, in less salubrious locations. There is an especially useful account of the history of religious drama in England, which traces the theatrical tradition all the way from the boisterous offerings of John Bale to the emergence of Godly opposition to the stage and the flowering of professional London-based theatrical companies.

Luther - 500 Years Reformation

As for song, much recent research has shown that it has long been the neglected hero of Reformation persuasion. Moving the medieval passion for communal singing into the church was a masterstroke. Communal solidarity could be fostered, disconcerting theological innovations could be made more palatable, and outside the church building, in the polemical songs of the street and tavern confessional enemies could be lambasted.

Pettegree stresses that not only the homely tunes of Luther had a phenomenal impact. In their way, the more austere metrical psalms of Geneva also had a knack of inspiring the faithful; in England, among the Huguenots of France or the embattled Protestants of the Netherlands, they became badges of solidarity and commitment.

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Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion by Andrew Pettegree

Drawing on his deep knowledge of the Protestant Reformation and the early modern printing industry, Pettegree has crafted a compelling narrative that conveys the excitement, chaos, and uncertainty of the first decades of the Protestant Reformation. He presents Luther as an innovative, forward-thinking mover of the print industry whose mastery of the new medium of print transformed both Christianity and the business of printing.


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