The German Reformation and Medieval Thought and Culture

The German Reformation and Medieval Thought and Culture

Ocker ,Christopher (The Graduate Theological Union and the San Francisco Theological Seminary)

History Compass, Volume 10, Issue 1 ((2012)


This essay asks the question, is it useful to approach the Reformation as a phase in a linear chronology, a movement away from the Middle Ages? On the example of Matthias Flacius Illyricus and the formation of Lutheran identity in the third quarter of the sixteenth century, I argue that Protestants had a vested interest in the continuity of their beliefs with medieval thought and culture. The familiar idea of a medieval-Reformation rupture is largely an invention of the nineteenth century. The research of recent decades, which I survey, has shown the limitations of this idea. I conclude with a proposal for seeing cultural change within multiple, overlapping chronologies.

This is an essay about the decline of an historical idea, namely, that the Reformation marked a rupture in the intellectual and cultural history of Europe. It was once thought that Martin Luther initiated a process in Germany of breaking free from intellectual, spiritual, and political servitude. Luther, it was thought, planted seeds of cultural and intellectual revolution throughout the continent.

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