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Basel's Rural Pastors as Mediators of Confessional and Social Discipline

  • Amy Nelson Burnett (a1)


Over the last two decades historians of early modern Europe have adopted the paradigm of confessionalization to describe the religious, political, and cultural changes that occurred in the two centuries following the Reformation.1 As an explanatory model confessionalization has often been portrayed as the religious and ecclesiastical parallel to the secular and political process of social discipline, as formulated by Gerhard Oestreich.2 In its simplest form, the process of confessional and social discipline is depicted as hierarchical and unidirectional: the impulse to discipline and control came from the secular and ecclesiastical authorities, and the laity, particularly the peasants at the bottom of the hierarchy, had little possibility of exerting counterpressures on those seeking to shape their beliefs and behavior. The inevitable result of the disciplinary process was the gradual suppression of popular culture and the imposition of new standards of belief and behavior on the subjects of the territorial state.



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1. The idea of confessionalization has been developed by Heinz Schilling and Wolfgang Reinhardt in numeroues articles; see for example Schilling, Heinz, “Die Konfessionalisierung im Reich: Religiöser und gesellschaftlicher Wandel in Deutschland zwischen 1555 und 1620,” Historische Zeitschrift 246 (1988): 145, and Reinhardt, Wolfgang, “Zwang zur Konfessionalisierung? Prolegomena zu einer Theorie des konfessionellen Zeitalterst,” Zeitschrfi für historische Forschung 13 (1983): 257–77. See also the summaries of recent research on confessionalization by Schmidt, Heinrich R., Konfessionalisierung im 16. Jahrhundert, (Munich, 1992) and Hsia, R. Po-chia, Social Discipline in the Reformation: Central Europe, 1550–1750 (London, 1989).

2. On Oestreich, see Schulze, Winfried, “Gerhard Oestreichs Begriff ‘Sozialdisziplinierung in der frühen Neuzeit’,” Zeitschrift für historische Forschung 14 (1987): 265302; Schmidt, , Konfessionalisierung, 94106.

3. On the changes to popular culture in general, the foundational work is Burke, Peter, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (New York, 1978); see Davis's, Natalie Zemon essays on the complexities of early modern popular religion, “Some Tasks and Themes in the Study of Popular Religion,” in The Pursuit of Holiness in Late Medieval and Renaissance Religion, Papers from the University of Michigan Conference, ed. Trinkaus, Charles and Oberman, Heiko A. (Leiden, 1974), 307–36. and idem, , “From ‘Popular Religion’ to Religious Cultures,” in Reformation Europe: A Guide to Research, ed. Ozment, Steven (St. Louis, 1982), 321–41; see also the work of Scribner, Robert W., as exemplified by his essays collected in idem, Popular Culture and Popular Movements in Reformation Germany (London, 1987). For a discussion of confessionalization, social discipline and their interaction with recent German research on popular culture using the tools of historical anthropology, see Prinz, Michael, “Sozialdisziplinierung und Konfessionalisierung: Neuere Fragestellungen in der Sozialgeschichte der frühen Neuzeit,” Westfälische Forschungen 42 (1992): 125.

4. Scribner, Robert W., “The Reformation and the Religion of the Common People,” in Die Reformation in Deutschland und Europa: Interpretationen und Debatten, ed. Guggisberg, Hans R., Krodel, Gottfried C., and Füglister, Hans (Gütersloh, 1993), 221–42; see also his article “Elements of Popular Belief,” with associated bibliography, in Handbook of European History 1400–1600: Late Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation, vol. 1, Structures and Assertions, ed. Brady, Thomas A. Jr., Oberman, Heiko A., and Tracy, James D. (Leiden, 1995), 231–62; Dülmen, Richard van, “Volksfrömmigkeit und konfessionelles Christentum im 16. und 77.Jahrhundert,” in Volksreligiosität in der modernen Sozialgeschichte, ed. Scheider, Wolfgang (Göttingen, 1986), 1430.

5. Strauss, Gerald initiated an intensive controversy in 1975 by asserting that visitation records demonstrate the Protestant reformers' failure to Create a Christian society, “Success and Failure in the German Reformation,” Past and Present 67 (1975): 3063; he expanded upon this thesis in the final chapter of his book, Luther's House of Learning: Indoctrination of the Young in the German Reformation (Baltimore, 1978). On the ensuing debate, see Parker, Geoffrey, “Success and Failure during the First Century of the Reformation,” Past and Present 136 (1992): 4382.

6. For a discussion of the historiographical debate over the role of the clergy in the process of confessionalization and modernization, see Schorn-Schütte, Luise, Evangelische Geistlichkeit in der Frühneuzeit: Deren Anteil an der Entfaltung frühmoderner Staatlichkeit und Gesellschaft (Gütersloh, 1996), 2031.

7. Rublack, Hans-Christoph, “‘Der wohlgeplagte Priester’: Vom Selbstverständnis lutherischer Geistlichkeit im Zeitalter der Orthodoxie,” Zeitschrift für historische Forschung 16 (1989): 130.

8. The number of Basel's rural parishes actually fluctuated between 27 and 29 between 1529–1619. On the Zurich church, see Baltischweiler, Wilhelm, Die Institutionen der evangelischreformierten Landeskirche des Kantons Zürich in ihrer geschichtlichen Entwicklung (Zurich, 1904), 17. The first Bern synod in 1530 was attended by 219 pastors; Quervain, Theodor de, Kirchliche und soziale Zustände in Bern unmittelbar nach der Einführung der Reformation (1528–1536) (Bern, 1906), 6.

9. See Oecolampadius's pastoral letter addressed to the clergy in thirteen of Basel's rural villages and in four in the villages subject to Basel's bishop, Staehelin, Ernst, ed., Briefe und Akten Zum Leben Oekolampads, zum vierhundertjährigen Jubiläum der Basler Reformation (Leipzig, 19271934) 2:239–48. For the background of many of the rural priests and on the spread of the Reformation in Basel's villages during the 1520s, see Gauss, Karl et al. , Geschichte der Landschaft Basel und des Kantons Basel-Landschaft (Liestal, 1932), 1:344448.

10. Only ten students matriculated in 1541, but the yearly number of new matriculations increased to a high of 175 in 1580; Thommen, Rudolf, Geschichte der Universität Basel, 1532–1632 (Basel, 1889), 87.

11. On the Collegium Alumnorum, see Thommen, , Geschichte, 7582; Vischer, Eberhard, “Das Collegium Alumnorum in Basel,” in Aus fünf Jahrhunderten schweizerischer Kirchengeschichte: Zum sechzigsten Geburtstag von Paul Wernle, ed. Theologische Fakultät der Universität Basel (Basel, 1932), 95162.

12. Summarized, with date of 18 March 1545, in Thommen, , Geschichte, 7677. The new statutes are contained in the Liber Stipendiatorum, Basel Staatsarchiv (henceforth BStA) Universitätsarchiv L 4, fol. 29r–32r.

13. For an analysis of those who received stipends from Erasmus's legacy, including some future Basel pastors, see Felici, Lucia, “The Erasmusstiftung and Europe: The Institution, Organization, and Activity of the Foundation of Erasmus of Rotterdam from 1538 to 1600,” History of Universities 12 (1993): 2563. Staehelin, Andreas, Geschichte der Universität Basel 1632–1818 (Basel, 1957), 109–13, describes the financial support available to Basel's students in the two centuries after our period. He notes that ¾ of the individual stipends endowed before 1813 were reserved for citizens of Basel. Since half of these stipends dated from before 1624, it can be assumed that a sizable proportion of the earlier stipends were similarly restricted to Baslers.

14. The statutes of the Upper College were adopted in 1543; those of the Lower College were modeled after those of the Upper College and were adopted in 1547; see the Matricula Superioris Collegii, Handschriftenabteilung, Universitätsbibliothek Basel (henceforth BUB) Mscr A N II 12, title page and statutes, pp. 1–27; and the Matricula Inferioris Collegii, BUB Mscr A N II 17, title page and statutes, pp. 1–40. The Lower College was later moved to a university building closer to the Upper College.

15. Letter to Conrad Hubert, 4 December 1542, cited in Burckhardt, Paul, ed., Das Tagebuch des Johannes Gast: Ein Beitrag zur schweizerischen Reformationsgeschichte (Basel, 1945), 64.

16. Liber Stipendiatorum, BStA Universitätsarchiv L 4, pp. 85r–90r.

17. Catalogus Stipendiatorum, BStA Universitätsarchiv L 5.

18. One of the most frequent problems was the unauthorized marriage of students who were receiving stipends. In April of 1550 Johannes Petri lost his stipend for having married without permission, but he was still held to the obligation to serve the city; BStA Universitätsarchiv B 1,1 (Acts et Decreta of the Rector and Regenz), 40v. Petri was appointed as deacon in Liestal and school-teacher in Lausen (the positions were combined) later that year; Gauss, Karl, Basilea Reformata: Die Gemeinden der Kirche Basel Stadt und Land und ihre Pfarrer seit der Reformation his zur Gegenwart (Basel, 1930), 121.

19. See the letter of Theobald Luterburg, 30 August 1604; BStA Universitätsarchiv VII 3, no. 11.

20. The importance of government support for increasing the proportion of locally-born pastors has also been noted in studies of the clergy in Strasbourg by Vogler, Bernard, “Recrutement et carrière des pasteurs strasbourgeois au XVI siècle,” Revue d'histoire et philosophie religieuses 48 (1968): 151–74; in Kitzingen by Erdmann Weyrauch, “Informationen zum Sozialprofil der evangelischen Geistlichkeit Kitzingens im 16. Jahrhundert.” in Bátori, Ingrid and Weyrauch, Erdmann, Die bürgerliche Elite der Stadt Kitzingen: Studien zur Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte einer landesherrlichen Stadt im 16. Jahrhundert (Stuttgart, 1982), 291312; and in Württemberg by Brecht, Martin, “Herkunft und Ausbildung der protestantischen Geistlichen des Herzogtums Württemberg im 16. Jahrhundert,” Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 80 (1969): 163–75.

21. In 1549, seven of the twenty-seven pastors in rural posts had matriculated; three of these had received degrees. The participants of the first synod are listed in Dürr, Emil and Roth, Paul, eds., Aktensammlung zur Geschichte der Basler Reformation in den Jahren 1519 bis Anfang 1534 (Basel, 19211950), 3:483–85 (henceforth ABR); the names of the rural pastors in 1548 and subsequently are taken from Gauss, Basilea Reformata. Educational backgrounds were determined on the basis of the following published university matriculation records: Wackernagel, H. G., ed., Die Matrikel der Universität Basel, vols. 1–3 (Basel, 19511962) (whose entries list other universities at which individual students are known to have matriculated); Mayer, Hermann, ed., Die Matrikel der Universität Freiburg im Breisgatt: von 1460–1656, repr. ed. (Nendeln, Liechtenstein, 1976); Keussen, Hermann, ed., Die Matrikel der Universität Köln, 1389 his 1559, 3 vols. (Bonn, 18921951); Erler, Georg, ed., Die jüngere Matrikel der Universität Leipzig 1559–1809, 3 vols. (Leipzig, 1909); Württembergische Kommission für Landesgeschichte, Die Matrikeln der Universität Tübingen, facsimile repr. ed. (Nendeln, Liechtenstein, 1976).

22. The pastor in question was Friedrich Koch, son of Samuel and grandson of Ulrich Koch. See the discussion in the Basel Kirchenrat about whether two candidates for the ministry recommended by the senate would he considered for posts even though they did not have master's degrees, meeting of 22 June 1586, BStA Kirchen Archiv D 1,1 (Kirchenratsprotokolle; hereafter KRP).

23. Burnett, Amy Nelson, “The Basel Clergy in the Later Sixteenth Century: A Preliminary Survey,” paper presented at the Sixteenth Century Studies Conference,Toronto, Ont., Canada, October 1994.

24. On the Basel Confession and its subsequent fate, see Hagenbach, Karl Rudolf, Kritische Geschichte der Entstehung und Schicksale der ersten Basler Konfession, 2nd ed. (Basel, 1857).

25. Berner, Hans, “Basel und das Zweite Helvetische Bekenntnis,” Zwingliana 15 (1979): 839.

26. Burnett, Amy Nelson, “Finding the Common Ground in Confessional Conflict: The Basel Paroxysm of 1570–71,” paper presented at the Frühe Neuzeit Interdisciplinär Conference,Duke University,Durham, NC, April 1995.In 1578 the requirement that new pastors subscribe to the Wittenberg Concord and its explanation was dropped. On the controversy over the Lord's Supper that broke out in Basel in 1578, see Hieronymus, Frank, “Gewissen und Staatskirchentum: Basler Theologie und Zensur um 1578,” Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 82 (1991): 209–38.

27. “Ordnung vnd statuten Gemeiner Brüederen vnd Kilchendiener des Capitels im Sissgoüw vnd gantzer landschafft Basel,” BStA Kirchen Archiv HH 3.

28. Burnett, Amy Nelson, “Controlling the Clergy: The Oversight of Basel's Rural Pastors in the Sixteenth Century,” Zwingliana 25 (1998): 129–42.

29. Letter dated 20 May 1598, BStA Kirchen Archiv HH2, #9, pp. 221–27.

30. 1594 Visitation, BStA Kirchen Akten E1; copy in Kirchen Archiv HH4, #13.

31. Censure of Jacob Ryter, 1601 visitation, BStA Kirchen Akten E1, fo. 3r; Strübin's report, BUB, Ms G II 11:378–81.

32. ABR 3: 389; the 1587 visitation revealed that most pastors did indeed hold quarterly catechism services. An edict issued in 1543 provided for monthly catechism services, but this was apparently not put into practice and had been forgotten by the 1550s; Staatsarchiv Basel-Land, Kirchenbücher Liestal 1, fol. 356r, contains a copy of this edict.

33. The problem of infrequent catechization was first brought up in the 1555 synodal articles, BStA Kirchen Akten A9, fol. 394r–96r. In 1557 the synod asked the senate to consider whether catechism services should be held more frequently, BStA Kirchen Akten C3: 86r–87r. In 1558 and 1559 the synod recommended that catechism instruction be given in each parish church before its bimonthly communion service and that pastors should test the schoolchildren's knowledge of the catechism once a month, BStA Kirchen Akten C3: 88r–89v, 66r–74v.

34. BStA Kirchen Akten C3: 82r.

35. KRP, BStA Kirchen Archiv D 1,1: 7 June 1588; see entry describing the introduction of the monthly catechism service, 69.

36. 1593 General Chapter, BStA Kirchen Archiv A24, #4; copy in KRP, BStA Kirchen Archiv D 1,1:251ff. Some of the pastors reported that they held catechism instruction every two weeks.

37. Pastor Ezechiel Falkeysen of Langenbruck, 1601 visitation, BStA Kirchen Akten E1, fol. 15r.

38. On the numbering of the Decalogue in the various editions of Basel's catechisms over the sixteenth century, see Reicke, Bo, Die zehn Worte in Geschichte und Gegemvart: Zählung und Bedeutung der Gebote in den verschiedenen Konfessionen (Tübingen, 1973), 1720.

39. See the discussion of the “correct division of the Decalogue” in the KRP. BStA Kirchen Archiv D 1,1: 13 January 1587; discussion of the Decalogue at the 1598 General Convent, BUB MsKiAr 22c, #4, fo. 34r–37r; 1601 visitation report, BStA Kirchen Akten E1.

40. 1598 General Convent, BUB MsKiAr 22c, #4, fo. 35r. See the 1601 visitation, in which Dean Gabriel Hummel reported that his congregation still used the older phrases when they recited the Decalogue, Creed, and Lord's Prayer, BStA Kirchen Akten E1, fol. 4v.

41. BUB, G II 11:378–81. Pastor Ulrich Meyer also reported some success “among the young people who have learned the long tenth commandment and other articles:” 1601 visitation, BStA Kirchen Akten E1, fol. 13v.

42. This is the explicit reason that pastor Jacob Ryter gave for his opposition to changes in the catechism during the synod of rural pastors in 1598 described above; BUB MsKiAr 22c, #4, fol. 23r–27r.

43. The notable exceptions, because they were the subject of a power struggle between the city pastors and the senate in the summer of 1597, were the statues of St. George and St. Martin on the facade of the Basel cathedral; KRP, BStA Kirchen Archiv D 1,1: 26 July, 1597 et seq. This conflict between urban pastors and senate had no impact on the rural territories, however. In contrast, popular reaction to attempts by ruler and pastors in the empire to impose Reformed doctrine and liturgy could meet with more vigorous resistance, since the differences with existing Lutheran practices were more marked; see the reaction of the parishioners of Sonnenborn, Schilling, Heinz, “Between the Territorial State and Urban Liberty: Lutheranism and Calvinism in the County of Lippe,” in Time German People and the Reformation., ed. Hsia, R. Po-chia (Ithaca, 1988), 263–83, here at 272–73.

44. Gauss, Karl, “Therwil und Ettingen in der Zeit der Reformation und Gegenreformation,” Basler Jahrbuch (1925): 107–62; idem, “Die Gegenreformation ins baslerisch-bischöflichen Laufen,” Basler Jahrbuch (1918): 3175.

45. BUB MsKiAr 22b: 312–13.

46. BStA Kirchen Akten E1; I have inferred the questions from the similar responses given by the pastors in the visitation report. See for example the reports of Isaac Keller, Rothenfluh, fol. 8v, and Ulrich Meyer, Waldenburg, fol. 13v.

47. ABR 5:236–37, #267 (10 June 1531); 6:186–87, #222 (22 December 1532); BUB MsKiAr 22a, #34 (7 August 1538). edict concerning ban and visitation: BUB MsKiAr 22a, #35 (19 November 1539), synod and ban ordinance; BUB MsKiAr 22a, #40 (12 August 1540), Acta Liechstalensia: reissue of earlier morals edicts; BStA Kirchen Akten A9: 375v–376v (23 September 1542). Verbesserung der Bannordnung.

48. The ban brothers of Basel's rural territories were similar in composition and function to the Stillstand in Zurich's rural parishes and the Chorgericht in Bern's rural territories. On the Zurich Stillstand, see Gordon, Bruce, “Die Entwicklung der Kirchenzucht in Zürich am Beginn der Reformation,” in Kirchenzucht und Sozialdisziplinierung im frühneuzeitlichen Europa (mit einer Auswahlbibliographie), ed. Schilling, Heinz (Berlin, 1994), 6590; on the Bernese Chorgericht, see Schmidt, Heinrich Richard, “‘Gemeinde-Reformation:’ Das bernische Sittengericht zwischen Sozialdisziplinierung und kommunaler Selbstregulation,” in Bäuerliche Frömmigkeit und kommunale Reformation, ed. Rütte, Hans von, Itinera 8 (Basel, 1988). 85121.

49. Acta Liechstalensia, BUB MsKiAr 22a #40, fo. 291r–v.

50. BStA Kirchen Akten C3: 90r–v.

51. “… werden sie Kallthansen geschallten;” as reported by pastor Philip Lautenberg of Muttenz; protocol of 1590 General Chapter meeting, KRP, BStA Kirchen Archiv D 1,1: 162. According to Grimm's Wörterbuch, in sixteenth-century Switzerland a “Kalthans” was more than simply a “snitch” but could also he a public official who reported moral offenders to the authorities (vol, 5, col. 91). In his study of elders in the county of Nassau-Dillenherg, Paul Münch points to the fear of social isolation as one reason for the reluctance of elders to carry out their duties, “Kirchenzucht und Nachbarschaft: Zur sozialen Problematik des calvinistischen Seniorats um 1600,” in Kirche und Visitation: Beiträge zur Erforschun des frühneuzeitlichen Visitationswesens in Europa, ed. Zeeden, Ernst Walter and Lang, Peter Thaddäus (Stuttgart, 1984), 216–48.

52. See the complaints concerning these points made at the 1558 synod; BStA Kirchen Akten F6, #6.

53. 1601 visitation report, BStA Kirchen Akten E1, citation at fol. 7v.

54. Protokolle of the Waldenburg district chapter, BStA Kirchen Archiv HR 14, 1:20, 23–24.

55. Lang, Peter Thaddäus, “Reform im Wandel: Die katholischen Visitationsinterrogatorien des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts,” in Kirche und Visitation, ed. Zeeden, and Lang, , 131–90; Karant-Nunn, Susan, “Neoclericalism and Anticlericalism in Saxony, 1555–1675,” Journal ot Interdisciplinary History 24 (1994): 615–37.

56. Bernard Vogler also concludes that the great majority of Protestants in the Palatinate conformed, at least externally, to the church's expectations, although he points out that this does not mean that they had internalized Protestant values: “Die Entstehung der protestantischen Volksfrömmigkeit in der rheinischen Pfalz zwischen 1555 und 1610,” Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 72 (1981): 158–95.

57. Kittelson, James M., “Successes and Failures in the German Reformation: The Report from Strasbourg,” Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 73 (1982): 153–74, and idem, “Visitations and Popular Religious Culture: Further Reports frons Strasbourg,” in Pietas et Societas: New Trends in Reformation Social History. Essays in Memory of Harold J. Grimm, ed. Sessions, Kyle C. and Bebb, Phillip N. (Kirksville, Mo., 1985), 89102.

58. On the Strasbourg clergy, see Vogler, “Recrutement et carrière.”

59. Schmidt, H. R., “Gemeinde-Reformation”; see also his “Die Christianisierung des Sozialverhaltens als permanente Reformation: Aus der Praxis reformierter Sittengerichte in der Schweiz während der frühen Neuzeit,” in Kommunalisierung und Christianisierung in Mitteleuropa: Voraussetzungen und Folgen der Reformation, 1400–1600, ed. Blickle, Peter and Kunisch, Johannes, 113–63 (Berlin, 1989).

60. Tolley, Bruce, Pastors and Parishioners in Württember During the Late Reformation, 1581–1621 (Stanford, 1995), 111–12; Robisheaux, Thomas, “Peasants and Pastors: Rural Youth Control and the Reformation in Hohenlohe, 1540–1680,” Social History 6 (1981): 281300.

61. 1601 Visitation, BStA Kirchen Akten E1, fol. 7v. According to Eva Labouvie, peasants in the Saarland also used this defense of popular magic in reaction to official condemnation of such practices by the church, “Wider Wahrsagerei, Segnerei und Zauberei: Kirchliche Versuche zur Ausgrenzung von Aberglaube und Volksmagie seit dem 16. Jahrhundert,” in Verbrechen, Strafen und soziale Kontrolle, ed. Dülmen, Richard van (Frankfurt am Main, 1990), 1555. The church's struggle against popular magic is a topic that goes beyond the limits of this paper; for a broader discussion of the issue, see Labouvie, Eva, Verbotene Künste: Volksmagie und ländlicher Aberglaube in den Dorfgemeinden des Saarraumes (16.– 19. Jahrhundert) (St. lngbert, 1992).

62. To list only a few recent studies on the long-term effect of the Reformation, see Müller, Siegfried, “Die Konfessionalisierung in der Grafschaft Oldenburg: Untersuchungen zur ‘Sozialdisziplinierung’ einer bäuerlichen Gesellschaft in dee Frühen Neuzeit,” Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 86 (1995): 257319; Dixon, C. Scott, The Reformation and Rural Society: The Parishes of Brandenburg-Ansbach-Kulmbach, 1528–1603 (Cambridge, 1996), 102–42; on the success/failure debate, see n. 5 above.

63. See Schmidt's, Heinrich R. overview of research on the impact of confessionalization, where he points out that “the ‘selective acceptance’ of confessionalization efforts has been especially poorly examined,” Dorf und Religion: Reformierte Sittenzucht in Berner Landgemeinden der Frühen Neuzeit (Stuttgart, 1995), 95102; citation at 102.

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