Adiaphora and the Apocalypse: Protestant Moral Rhetoric of Ritual at the End of History (1544 –1560)
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CitationYoder, Klaus C. 2016. Adiaphora and the Apocalypse: Protestant Moral Rhetoric of Ritual at the End of History (1544 –1560). Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Divinity School.
AbstractThis dissertation argues that the Protestant Reformation did not degrade the importance of ritual, but instead reinvested it with a new form of power. By interpreting a theological controversy over the benefits and dangers of “human ceremonies,” this project demonstrates how liturgical practices and implements made competing theologies materially present in moments of apocalyptic expectation. Following their defeat by emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire in 1547, German Protestants were supposed to assist in repairing the breakdown of the western Latin Church by accepting compromises in church ceremonies as “external things” that were immaterial to their core theological commitments. However, the mere suggestion that traditional Catholic elements could “make no difference” to Protestant worship touched off a firestorm of protest among a group of theologians and pastors passionately devoted to the memory of Luther. Far from being “indifferent things,” or adiaphora, ritual materials and gestures were instead presented by these critics as the means for infecting pious souls with the “prostitution of idolatry” and inscribing the apocalyptic “mark of the Beast” [Malzeichen des Thiers] on their bodies.
I argue that the polemical rhetoric of the adiaphora controversy reflects a larger trend in early modern Protestant thought: the fusion of the concepts of pollution and idolatry. Idolatry remained associated with opinions and dispositions, however it was also transmitted through corrupted speech. Corrupted speech, in turn, polluted the material of idolatry. The objects and practices stained in this way materialized idolatry in Protestant liturgical settings. Idolatry, therefore, was not just located in false beliefs or statements, but was also embodied and transmitted through tainted practices and paraphernalia. The materialization of idolatry threatened bodies, souls, doctrines, and communities, and its dangers were brought into view through metaphors of filth, disease, and prostitution. These were employed in polemical rhetoric to mark the practices of allegedly hypocritical Protestants, making their moral and theological corruption legible to a broader Protestant public. By exploring the operations of this rhetoric, I offer an interpretation of Protestant liturgical purification that stands in contrast to dominant scholarly accounts of the Reformation as a moment of “anti-ritualism” and rationalization.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:27194246