Wittenberg Under the Ban

Charlotte Methuen’s TLS review essay of recent books on the Reformation is the best one-stop summary of recent scholarship I’ve seen during this season of Ref500 commemorations.

In the recent biographies of Luther, you can find Luther the medieval mystic (Volker Leppin), Luther the angry, lonely rebel (Lyndal Roper), Luther as seen by Rome (Volker Reinhardt). Methuen discusses Carlos Eire’s massive study of the plural Reformations that stretched from 1450-1650.

Natalie Krentz has made some of the most intriguing discoveries in recent scholarship. She has done a micro-history of pre-Luther Wittenberg and found that “early in the sixteenth century Wittenberg more often than not found itself under the ‘ban.’ that is, effectively excommunicated, by the Bishop of Magdeburg, and that from 1513, the town council claimed that the Bishop had no authority over either the town or its archdeaconry. These ecclesiastical concerns clearly had a significant impact on the political situation of the town and the town council, and shaped relations with the territorial ruler, Elector Frederick of Saxony.”

It’s just the sort of town you’d expect to be the center of a global challenge to the Catholic hierarchy.

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