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“Sweeping out the Papal Dung” — The Second Reformation in Brandenburg

July 12th, 2008
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Bodo Nischan. Prince, People and Confession: The Second Reformation in Brandenburg. Philadelphia: University of Pennysylvania Press, 1994. Hardback. 6×9. 366 pages.

Bodo Nischan provides a fascinating study of the attempts made by the rulers of the territories of Brandenburg, Germany to move from Lutheranism to Calvinist theology and practice, and the resistance with which these efforts were met by the clergy, lay leaders and citizens. The effort to introduce Reformed worship and beliefs into the territories was termed the “Second Reformation” and was said to be the “completion” of what Martin Luther had started, but had not been able to complete. Brandenburg’s form of Lutheranism was notably much more conservative in its retention of various rites and ceremonies from Roman Catholicism, and as the threats from Reformed theology increased, these practices and customs were seen as essential in warding off Calvinistic influences.

From 1535-1598, Joachim II and Johann Georg were ardent defenders of Lutheranism in Brandenburg, but this all changed with Joachim Friedrich’s reign who leaned more toward Calvinism. The great crisis however occurred after his death, when his son, and heir, Johann Sigismund converted to Calvinism in 1606. This set in motion the “Second Reformation” in which there were repeated attempts to move Brandenburg away from Lutheranism to Calvinism. Art was removed from the great Dom in Berlin and a Calvinist Eucharist was celebrated there. The people of Brandenburg protested vigorously the introduction of Calvinist doctrine and worship practices, with protests leading even to riots and physical confrontations with the Calvinist advisers and clergy brought into Brandenburg.

The Calvinists claimed that they were sweeping the “papal dung” out of the Christ’s stable. The Lutherans resisted these efforts. The controversies raged over the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, most chiefly, but other Calvinist doctrines as well. Efforts to move Brandenburg to Reformed theology ultimately were not successful. The Thirty Years War however finally resulted in a movement away from confessional conviction being the basis for political alliances, and it was only after that separation was made the unionizing efforts of Calvinists were successful under the influence of the Lutheran Pietism in the mid-18th century.

This book is well written, painstakingly documented, and comes with detailed notes, indices and bibliographical materials.  The connection between style and substance is dramatically documented by this book. Bodo Nischan appears to have a bias against what he frequently terms: “fanatical” or “rigid” or “zealous” Lutheranism, and so his descriptions of the doctrinal controversies and positions of both parties can not be said to be biased toward Lutheranism, thus making his descriptions of orthodox, “Concordian” Lutheranism, as he calls it, all the more authentic and interesting. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, the book is no longer in print, but can be purchased as a used book. It is essential reading for a deep look into the interplay between doctrine and practice and how closely linked the elements of “style” in Lutheran worship are to the substance of Lutheran doctrine and confession, and thus provides much food for thought in our present ongoing debates and discussions about worship forms and practices today.

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Categories: Book Reviews
  1. William Weedon
    July 12th, 2008 at 16:51 | #1

    One doesn’t argue with the Lord, but how can we not mourn that Bodo Nisshan’s work was cut short. He is absolutely brilliant in his assessment of the situation in Brandenburg. Have you come to the butcher story yet? I think it’s in that one. If not, it’s in his other one.
    [[McCain: I argue with the Lord all the time. He always wins though.
    Yes, the butcher story is in this book. Pastor Weedon is referring to the incident that took place when a butcher brought his meat cleaver to the church and threatened to use it on the minister if he did not use the full Lutheran order of baptism, which in Brandenburg still included the excorcism. I'd love to get the volume that collects many of Nischan's articles, but even used, it is over $100!!]]

  2. Brian Westgate
    July 14th, 2008 at 12:37 | #2

    I suppose a related work is Paul Graff’s “Geschichte der alten gottesdienstlichen Formen in der evangelischen Kirche Deutschlands.” Dr. Paul H.D. Lang references this 2-volume work at the beginning of his preface to “Ceremony and Celebration.” I’d like to see this in English. Or at least hope there’s a copy of it in the CTS library.

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