Why did the Reformation take root in some places and not others? Although many factors were involved, the varying character of penitential preaching across Europe in the decades prior to the Reformation was an especially important contributor to the subsequent receptivity of evangelical ideas. In this book, several collections of model sermons are studied to provide an overview of late medieval teaching on penitence. What emerges is a pattern of differing emphases in different geographical locations, with the characteristic emphases of the penitential message in each region suggesting how such teaching prepared the ground for both the appeal and the reputation of Luther's message. People heard and interpreted the new theology using the late medieval penitential understandings and expectations they had been taught. The variety of teaching found in the Church left different regions vulnerable or resistant to evangelical critiques and alternatives. Despite current academic claims that the establishment of the Reformation cannot have resulted from lay religious understanding, this study offers evidence that theological ideas did reach beyond religious elites to promote a degree of popular support for the Reformation.
'One of the outstanding strengths of Thayer's work is the voluminous evidence she adduces from primary sources to substantiate these characterizations of late medieval preaching of penitence. She translates extensive portions of sermons so that her reader may become familiar with the sources at hand to the preacher at the beginning of the sixteenth century. And she usually makes the Latin original available to the reader in that fast-disappearing aid to scholarship, the footnote… Thayer has provided […] the best resource yet available to examine what exactly was preached in churches in the years leading up to the Reformation.' Concordia Journal 'Thayer deserves praise for daring to think big and in so doing she has set the agenda for future research.' Ecclesiastical History '… this book is an important contribution on several counts.' The Catholic Historical Review '… a valuable and important book, for medievalists as well as early modernists. Its discussion of pre-Reformation penitential practices is the most significant since Tentler's of 1977.' Heythrop 'Anne Thayer's work is an excellent new study on the place of penitence in the period around the beginning of the Reformation itself and contributes significantly to the question of why the Reformation took root in some areas and not in others… This is a book that should be read by anyone interested in the late Medieval period and/or the early Reformation in Europe.' Colloquium
Contents: Penitence and preaching on the eve of the Reformation; Printed model sermon collections; The pervasiveness of penitence; Rigorist, moderate and absolutionist sermon collections; Luther's response to the late medieval penitential system; Penitence, preaching and the coming of the Reformation; Appendices; Bibliography; Index.