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Kirchengeschichte: Reformationszeit


Kommer, Dorothee


Reformatorische Flugschriften von Frauen. Flugschriftenautorinnen der frühen Reformationszeit und ihre Sicht von Geistlichkeit.


Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt 2013. 420 S. = Arbeiten zur Kirchen- und Theologiegeschichte, 40. Geb. EUR 48,00. ISBN 978-3-374-03163-4.


Peter Matheson

The merits of this book by Dorothee Kommer are manifold. For the first time all the evangelical women pamphleteers of the early German Reformation are treated together. The names of Katharina Schütz Zell, Argula von Grumbach, or Ursula Weyda are well known, but they are joined here by Margareta von Treskow, the fascinating Florentina von Oberweimar, Ursula von Münsterberg, and three anonymous writers. The opportunity this gives to compare their views and influence is enhanced by a comprehensive list of the biblical quotations each deploys, a decidedly useful tool. The historical introductions to each author are up with the latest re­-search, and are impressively extensive, often introducing new ma­terial. Judgements are cautious, but K. does not hesitate to correct eminent authorities where necessary.
The focus of the book is relatively narrow: how these women viewed and described the clergy, Catholic and Protestant, and how this, in turn, affected their understanding of their role as lay exe-getes, witnesses and apologists. The latter contributes to the ongoing discussion of ›ego documents‹ as well as to that of gender issues.
An introductory chapter provides an overview of women’s stud­ies in the Reformation area in its social, literary and theological dimensions, and of scholarship on the Flugschriften, displaying a broad acquaintance with English-speaking as well as continental scholarship. Women were »in einem radikaleren Sinne Laien als die Männer« (24). The ex-nuns constitute a slightly different category and their writings are treated separately. The claims for the female authorship of Ein gross clag der armen Leyen (ca. 1525) are convincingly rejected.
The first section deals with Argula von Grumbach’s seven pamphlets; with the two anonymous pamphlets: Ayn bezwungene antwort vber eynen Sendbrieff/einer Closter nunnen and Ain Sendbrieff von Ainer erbern frawen im Eelichen stand; with Ursula Weyda’s Wyder das vnchristlich schreyben vnd Lesterbuch/des Apts Simon zu Pegaw vnnd seiner Brüder; with Katharina Schütz Zell’s three pamphlets: to the women of Kentzingen; the apologia for Matthew Zell, and her Brieff an die gantze Burgerschafft; and finally Margareta von Treskow’s Sendbreff einer Erbaren frowen.
On Argula von Grumbach the interesting point is made that the variant readings in the Ms. version of her first pamphlet probably derive from her own amendments (56) and a hitherto unnoticed satire in the Seehofer affair is unearthed (75). Her membership of the high nobility, is however, incorrectly denied. (111). Argula’s eschatological views, combined with a sharp Bildungskritik, led to a characterisation of the Catholic clergy as the Feinde Gottes; she saw her prophetic authorization by the Spirit as a divine punishment for their false teaching.
The similarities of the two anonymous pamphlets which probably appeared at the turn of 1524 suggest they have the same author, and K. concludes that they were, in fact, genuine letters from a married woman to her sister, although any biographical details are absent. The writings are scathing about the »vermainte gaistlichait« of the monastic life; the author is von got bezwungen, and authorized by her baptismal vow, to reprove her sister (language reminiscent of Argula von Grumbach).
Ursula Weyda’s »rhetorische Fertigkeiten« (153) are described as superior to those of other women pamphleteers; the clergy are identified by Weyda as the devilish seducers prophesied for the Last Times, while Mt 10 and Joel 3 enabled her as a woman to speak out on theological matters.
Katharina Schütz Zell’s self-understanding as a writer and witness to the faith is viewed as closely oriented to that of Argula von Grumbach (201–204). Her battle, however, was also with Protestant clergy, especially with Ludwig Rabus, who ironically was a fervent admirer of Argula. The decisive issue for salvation in Zell’s mind was not dogmatic correctness but Christian life and love. K. notes the significance of gender and generational issues for this »mother of the church«. Her less hierarchical approach clashed with the »fester Amtsstruktur« of the later evangelical church (207).
Margareta von Treskow’s Sendbrieff of 1534 was not rediscovered until 1997; other writings by her appear to have perished. It is the only pamphlet in Lower German, though the preface by Nicholas von Amsdorf is in High German. She attempts to persuade the bi­-shop of Havelberg, Busso von Alvensleben, a determined advocate of the old faith, to release Michael Topp, the pastor she had installed in Bukow. She cites Gal 3:28 and Mt 10 as justifying her intervention as a woman, and notes that women had always baptized infants in an emergency. Her tone of her letter to her »dear father and shepherd« is irenic, and quite at odds with Amsdorf’s polemic.
The book then turns to women with a monastic background: the anonymous Eyn kurtze antwort einer Ordens schwester, which ran to four editions in 1523: the Appellation der Priorin (1528); Florentina von Oberweimar’s Eyn Geschicht wie Got eyner Erbarn kloster Jungfrawen ausgeholffen hat (1523/4); and Herzogin Ursula von Münsterberg’s Christliche vrsach des verlassen Klosters zu Freyberg (1528).
The antwort, probably stemming from Nuremberg, is apparently addressed by a nun to her Carthusian brother; it denounces the monastic life as based on salvation by works; in the form of a sermon on Mt 7, it offers no biographical information; K. regards it as an authentic letter.
The Appellation of the nuns of St Peter, who were in their ma­-jor­ity evangelical, appeals against the bishop of Constance’s ban to a General Council and is clearly influenced by the City Council and its Klosterpfleger; K. notes the close contacts between Ambrosius and Margareta Blarer and the nuns, and the similarities between the Appellation and other reformist writings, including Blarer’s, but finds enough differences to argue that the nuns themselves composed it. They view the Catholic clergy as blind shepherds, and see their own reformed life with its focus on Scripture and care of the poor as true to God’s will and ordering.
The resonance of the moving account of Florentina von Oberweimar for contemporaries is seen in the six editions it attracted. It details the beatings, confinement and ostracisation she suffered when at the age of 14 she rebelled against a monastic régime which was so contrary to her »gemüt und geschicklickeyt« and »eyn gestrackter weg zu der hell« (287). She managed to flee to Wittenberg, Luther adding a foreword to her refutation of the Abbess’s accusations of theft. She saw herself as a Protestant martyr.
Ursula von Münsterberg’s account of the abortive reformation of the Freyberg nunnery is known through the various Luther editions. Baptism made her a true »bride of Christ«; she stresses the Gewissensnot of those »schwerlich gefangen« in monastic life.
An all too brief comparison of K.’s view of the clergy, of their understanding of their own role, and of their use of Scripture concludes this rich and informative work. One looks forward to further writings from her pen.