Miracles and the Protestant Imagination: The Evangelical Wonder Book in Reformation Germany
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Oxford University Press / 2012 / Hardcover
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Miracles and the Protestant Imagination: The Evangelical Wonder Book in Reformation Germany

Oxford University Press / 2012 / Hardcover

In Stock
Stock No: WW844661


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Product Description

The "wonder book" was a new genre that appeared in the troubled years following Luther's death in 1546 and the outbreak of religious wars in teh middle of the 16th century.

Originally conceived as a kind of apocalyptic text intended to interpret the ''signs of the times'' during this uncertain period, these books were filled with accounts of celestial visions, comets, natural disasters, monstrous births, and other seeming signs and portents, events in which the hand of God was revealed.

As the genre developed, Philip Soergel shows, its authors, mostly Lutheran divines, came increasingly to delve into the theology of miracles and the supernatural. Writing for a mostly clerical audience, they hoped to encourage the broad revival of a sense of divine presence in everyday life. Thus, in contrast to generations of scholars who have assumed that the Reformation represented a vital step on the way to the "disenchantment of the world," Soergel's groundbreaking Miracles and the Protestant Imagination reveals that German evangelicals were themselves active enchanters.

Product Information

Format: Hardcover
Number of Pages: 272
Vendor: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: 2012
ISBN: 0199844666
ISBN-13: 9780199844661

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Publisher's Description

The Reformation's war against the saints and their miracles is well known. The story of the Protestant Reformers' embrace of natural wonders as miracles that could similarly spur piety and moral discipline is much less familiar. In Miracles and the Protestant Imagination, Philip M. Soergel examines the sixteenth-century Lutheran wonder books, works filled with accounts of monstrous births, celestial apparitions, natural disasters, plagues, and other seemingly aberrant events occurring in the natural world.

Soergel traces the inspiration behind these books to a widespread appropriation of wonders that was taking place throughout late-medieval and early-modern Europe. As sixteenth-century rulers stocked their curiosity cabinets with all manner of strange and confounding bits of nature collected from the far corners of the globe, evangelical theologians, too, compiled enormous compendia filled with accounts of fantastic events long recorded in the natural world. Many embraced such tales to satisfy an innate curiosity about nature and its often incomprehensible processes, but Germany's devout evangelicals relied upon them to warn of imminent Apocalypse, to drive home the full scope of human depravity, and to encourage the repentant to keep the Law of an angry, Deuteronomic God.

Luther had dismissed natural signs as inferior when compared against the testimony of the scriptures. Nevertheless, inspired by Melanchthon and other contemporaries who embraced history, natural philosophy, and rhetoric as proofs for Christian doctrine, the authors of late-Reformation wonder books fashioned natural signs into powerful defenses of treasured evangelical principles. In so doing, their works revealed the tensions as well as fears at play within a maturing Reformation movement as it faced mounting internal dissension and external pressures from Calvinism and resurgent Catholicism.

Author Bio


Philip M. Soergel is Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland.

Editorial Reviews


"Soergel's beautifully written study of sixteenth-century Lutheran wonder books fills a huge gap in the English-language literature. Here an accomplished scholar guides us through these massive collections of freakish phenomena, illuminating their theological and broader cultural contexts. Few books have done more to illuminate the truth that Luther's Reformation brought no sudden 'disenchantment of the world,' for Soergel uncovers a virtual obsession with the ways in which God's wrath over sin was manifest in nature."--Robin B. Barnes, Professor of History, Davidson College


"In this ground-breaking study of wonder books and marvellous broadsides, Philip Soergel lucidly maps out attitudes towards miracles developed by Luther and his followers. From conjoined twins to parhelia and bearded grapes, unusual occurrences in nature were signs that prompted reflections on sin and vice, Law and Gospel, God's ire and benevolence. This is an original contribution to our understanding of the enduring significance of nature and its miracles in early-modern Protestant worldviews."--Sachiko Kusukawa, Fellow in the History and Philosophy of Science, Trinity College, Cambridge University


"In his nuanced and challenging reflections on the sixteenth-century publishing phenomenon known as 'wonder books,' Philip Soergel transcends the usual theological and polemical limitations on most scholarly discussions of early Lutheran thinking. Like the authors he analyzes, Soergel draws on broad familiarity with natural philosophy, astrology, history, classical literature, philology, and more. What at first might seem quaint or merely odd collections of random curiosities are brilliantly transformed to provide windows into the anxious imaginations of German Protestantism's earliest theologians. The author's deep erudition is evident on every page--always in crisp, jargon-free prose--and his thesis stands out as bold, insightful, and highly persuasive."--Joel F. Harrington, Professor of History, Vanderbilt University


"Soergel succeeds admirably in demonstrating that the pessimism of Lutheran pastors was not the universal experience of sixteenthcentury men and women, but a theologically conditioned response underpinning Luther's fundamental belief that mankind was helpless before the majesty of God...Miracles and the Protestant Imagination is an outstanding book, a work of profound and wide-ranging erudition. The argument is presented with clarity and economy."--Times Literary Supplement


"Philip Soergel's fascinating book is the most detailed study to date of the sixteenth-century wonder or miracle book in its Northern German, evangelical form... The book is groundbreaking in its fine-grained discussion of
the theological debates and concepts underpinning these publications. It is a substantial
addition to the scholarship of recent years demanding that scholars rethink older
paradigms about the disenchantment of the world, and forms a compelling example of
the strengths of the cultural turn in early modern religious history." --Renaissance Quarterly


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