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Reformed Protestantism 5:
East Friesland and North-Western Germany II


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Hrsg. v. Wim Janse


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Brill Academic Publishers

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Sources on the development of Reformed Protestantism in East Friesland and North-Western Germany in the 16th and 17th century. In the 16th century, the seaport town of Emden at the heart of East Friesland grew into the "mother church" of Dutch Calvinism, which was the driving force behind the Dutch Revolt. Concurrently, in neighbouring North-Western Germany the so-called "second Reformation" took place, that is, the calvinizing of Lutheran lands. From 1555 onwards, the Lutheran cities of Bremen and Hamburg became the scenes of sacramentarian controversies which had an impact far beyond their borders. They marked a critical phase in the transition of German left wing Lutherans to (a form of) Calvinism and in the consolidation processes of the Lutheran and Reformed confessions in North-Western Europe.

Reformed Bremen

A Hanseatic city, Bremen was among the economic and political centers of Northern Germany. In 1547 the Dutchman Albert Hardenberg, adept of the Strasbourg reformer Bucer, was appointed the first Protestant cathedral preacher. After Hardenberg's clash with his Gnesiolutheran colleagues over the Lord's Supper and christology, Daniël von Büren, the town's mayor and a pupil of Melanchthon's, led Bremen out of the Lutheran camp in 1562 in spite of economic sanctions. The introduction of the Reformed Bremen Consensus (1595), written by superintendent Pezel, completed and consolidated Bremen's theological and political transition to confessional Calvinism. Around 1600 the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) was introduced; however, the Augsburg Confession remained important for political reasons. Ecclesiastical structure followed the Zwinglian model and so the magistrates' control over the church remained unchallenged. The church-political aspect of the economic treaty that Bremen concluded with the States General of the Calvinist Netherlands in 1616 was reflected in Bremen's official participation in the Dordrecht Synod (1618-19) and in the undersigning of its resolutions against the Remonstrants. At the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 the Reformed character of the Bremen church was recognized by state law. The Lutherans became increasingly excluded from public life, though they found - through the Swedish government - a new ecclesiastical focus in the re-opened cathedral in 1638.

Disciplinization and education

In the Reformed confessionalization process in North-Western Germany disciplinization and education played a crucial role. Bremen's municipal authorities instilled Reformed morals into the population by means of countless regulations regarding special days for fasting, penance, prayer and holidays, as well as rules on dress and customs pertaining to betrothals, marriage, weddings, infant baptism, christening feasts, wakes and funerals. They also introduced food regulations and ordinances regarding schools, the poor, and almsgiving.

Under the aegis of the City Council, the Bremen 'Gymnasium Illustre' (1528-1813) developed into an educational stronghold, notably in theology and law. Started as a Latin school, its star rose rapidly under the famous humanist Molanus and its prolific rector Pezel. In 1610 the magistrates dismissed the maladroit rector Widmar and in his place appointed the progressive Herborn pedagogue Martini, mentor of Comenius and Alsted. Martini reorganized the Bremen school into an academy containing the four classical Faculties, gave it its own printer (De Villiers) and introduced his practical, Ramist ideas on didactic reform. He also won great distinction as a philologist. Under his rectorate and that of Crocius and Meier, the academy attracted students from the whole of Reformed Europe, including many Bohemians and Moravians, and supplied hundreds of theologians and clergymen (e.g. Coccejus) to Calvinist churches and institutions as far away as North America and East India. The academy had its heyday in the second half of the seventeenth century and overall, between 1610-1810, employed some 175 professors and enrolled roughly 7,680 students. When confessional differences lost their edge the academy lost its original reason for existing - in Bremen, too, theologians followed the general movement from orthodoxy through Pietism to Physico-theology and Enlightenment.

Molded by reform humanists of the Strasbourg and Zurich stamp, the Bremen academy occupied a place of its own within early orthodoxy and Reformed scholasticism. It never lost its specific, moderate, irenic bias, as was apparent in its infralapsarianism, christological universalism and federal theology. With this North-German flavor of the Reformed confession, the polychromy of the Protestant and Reformed traditions, as well as that of the rigid confessionalism in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe, was enriched with yet another nuance.

Religious polemics

In the confessional era religious polemics flourished. In particular, North-German Reformed-Lutheran controversies dealt with sacramental theology, christology and conformity to the Augsburg Confession. They also dealt with images, Melanchthon's orthodoxy and the primogeniture of Lutheranism or Calvinism. Pezel became involved in yearlong polemics on Bremen's confessional course with Paul von Eitzen, Hamelmann, Daniël Hoffmann, Heshusius, Hunnius, Marbach, Petri and Wigand. He was also especially involved in debate with Selneccer on the historical self-image of the Lutherans. In this climate, Bremen's superintendent Pierius and city commander Neubaur had to clear themselves of Lutheran allegations of confessional deviation. As well, the Lutheran general superintendent of Bremen and Verden, Havemann, was accused by the Bremen physician Kozak of stirring up strife between Lutherans and Reformed, thus forfeiting the protection of the (Lutheran) Swedish army. Meanwhile Crocius, 'the real dogmatician of the Bremen school', defended the Reformed heritage against Arminians, Catholics, Spiritualists, Socinians and other exponents of 'heterodoxy'.


As to the 'mother church' of Dutch Calvinism, the second installment of this collection offers editions of the 1571 Synod, Laski's and Micronius's Church order and the latter's Short instruction on the Lord's Supper. It also includes publications on the new shorter Emden Catechism, the eucharistic doctrine, debates with Anabaptists and the East-Frisian government and religious politics.

Biographies, calendars, devotional and liturgical writings, historiography, letters, sermons

This collection is completed by a substantial set of selected letters; sermons and commentaries; calendars and liturgical regulations, hymnbooks, prayers and devotional writings. There are also biographies, autobiographies and funeral sermons; city histories, accounts of East Friesland's, Saxony's and Northern Germany's natural, political, intellectual and ecclesiastical history, geography and topography; and historiographical standard works.

Together, the first and second installments of this collection offer a unique and at the same time exemplary vista of two centuries of Reformed Protestantism in its local Lutheran and international Reformed contexts.

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