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The German Reformation and Medieval Thought and Culture
By Christopher Ocker
History Compass, Volume 10, Issue 1 (2012)
Abstract: 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.