Salvation at Stake: Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe / Edition 1

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Overview

Thousands of men and women were executed for incompatible religious views in sixteenth-century Europe. The meaning and significance of those deaths are studied here comparatively for the first time, providing a compelling argument for the importance of martyrdom as both a window onto religious sensibilities and a crucial component in the formation of divergent Christian traditions and identities.

Gregory explores Protestant, Catholic, and Anabaptist martyrs in a sustained fashion, addressing the similarities and differences in their self-understanding. He traces the processes and impact of their memorialization by co-believers, and he reconstructs the arguments of the ecclesiastical and civil authorities responsible for their deaths. In addition, he assesses the controversy over the meaning of executions for competing views of Christian truth, and the intractable dispute over the distinction between true and false martyrs. He employs a wide range of sources, including pamphlets, martyrologies, theological and devotional treatises, sermons, songs, woodcuts and engravings, correspondence, and legal records. Reconstructing religious motivation, conviction, and behavior in early modern Europe, Gregory shows us the shifting perspectives of authorities willing to kill, martyrs willing to die, martyrologists eager to memorialize, and controversialists keen to dispute.

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Editorial Reviews

Harvard Book Review

In Salvation at Stake, Brad Gregory tries to ground the motives of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century martyrs in their sense of Christian doctrine. And though his scholarship is impeccable, Gregory's achievement lies as much in the defense of a historical method as in explaining why these believers chose to die rather than deny their faith. He rises to occasional eloquence—and more frequent elegance—while arguing for a study of martyrs which will take these individuals on their own terms, not those of modern critics. At crucial points throughout his book, Gregory properly condemns the historical arrogance that ignores religion's hold upon the faithful.
— Steven Stryer

Times Literary Supplement

The martyrs of early modern Europe are something of an embarrassment. Men, women and even children who had the bad taste to consider religious faith, of all things, something to die for, exceptions even in their own time, are especially unpalatable to an age in which faith has become a kind of fashion accessory. Brad S. Gregory has changed all that, and perhaps more, in Salvation at Stake...His ambitious survey breaks the mould of both confessional and reductionist historiography with an even-handed and sympathetic account of Anabaptist, Catholic and Protestant martyrdom which casts fresh light on early modern Christianity as a whole as well as on the emerging denominations. It should be emphasized that this book is an analytical study of martyrdom, and not itself a martyrology. It draws on original compilations such as those of John Foxe, Thieliman van Braght and Richard Verstegan, yet it is itself historical, not hagiographical...Unlike many monographs arising from doctoral dissertations, this one has been distilled, rather than diluted, on its way to the press. The distillate is all that you might expect from Princeton-trained scholar: learned, logical, lucid. The inspiration of Peter Brown, Anthony Grafton and Heiko Oberman is not only invoked in the acknowledgements, but evident in the intellectual breadth of the achievement, which boldly transgresses confessional, national and linguistic boundaries at a time when myopic specialization has become normative. So many books are published now that it seems arrogant to define any of them as required reading. But Salvation At Stake is a book which nobody working in the field of Reformation and early modern history can afford to pass over. And it is not just required reading; it is rewarding, too, amply deserving the Harvard University Press Thomas J. Wilson Prize for the best first book of the year. Anyone who enjoyed Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars, or Diarmaid MacCulloch's Cranmer, will find this just as good.
— Richard Rex

French History

This is undoubtedly a major achievement, particularly for a first book. Gregory has read extraordinarily widely in both primary and secondary sources, and dissects both the assurance and élan. It deserves a wide readership both for its substantial contribution to the scholarship on martyrdom, and for the vigour of its polemic about good and bad ways to write religious history.
— Peter Marshall

Commonweal

Brad Gregory's important and highly original book is a social history of religion that eschew the reductionism that treats religious practices as "behaviors" having no transcendent meaning. That is welcome news, as is the forthright way in which Gregory critiques earlier scholarly approaches to his topic...Aside from enriching our understanding of how martyrdom functioned for Reformation Christians, and aside from his trenchant critique of methodologies that fail to give martyrs their due, Gregory offers something to readers seeking transhistorical insights. The very empathy, evenhandedness, and historical imagination that enable Gregory to recapture the age of religious intolerance can enable ecumenically minded Christians to listen to Christians of other persuasions, and to take their doctrines seriously while avoiding the temptation to trivialize or relativize them in aid of an easy but ultimately vacuous accommodation. By showing us where we have been, Gregory gives us intellectual tools for envisioning and shaping the kinds of destinations we may define for ourselves.
— Marcia L. Colish

Theological Studies

Gregory's massive research has emphasized how Protestant, Anabaptist, and Catholic martyrs rooted their actions in their understanding of the scripture…Certainly the modern reader, in our ecumenical age, is repulsed by the concept that men and women could read the same gospel and kill each other over its interpretation. This lack of comprehension, however, is a modern problem, one that those pursuing historical theology cannot ignore. Here Gregory's study returns us to the fundamental issues that both supported and created the early modern martyr and the subsequent martyrologies of the age.
— Michael W. Maher, S.J.

Church History

This well-structured book focuses on the engagement of English Protestants with the history of the medieval church from whose rites and values they had so decidedly disengaged...This book offers a fresh, slightly provocative perspective and as such is to be warmly welcomed, not least as the debates about the periodization of church history continue.
— Peter Matheson

Harvard Book Review - Steven Stryer
In Salvation at Stake, Brad Gregory tries to ground the motives of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century martyrs in their sense of Christian doctrine. And though his scholarship is impeccable, Gregory's achievement lies as much in the defense of a historical method as in explaining why these believers chose to die rather than deny their faith. He rises to occasional eloquence--and more frequent elegance--while arguing for a study of martyrs which will take these individuals on their own terms, not those of modern critics. At crucial points throughout his book, Gregory properly condemns the historical arrogance that ignores religion's hold upon the faithful.
Times Literary Supplement - Richard Rex
The martyrs of early modern Europe are something of an embarrassment. Men, women and even children who had the bad taste to consider religious faith, of all things, something to die for, exceptions even in their own time, are especially unpalatable to an age in which faith has become a kind of fashion accessory. Brad S. Gregory has changed all that, and perhaps more, in Salvation at Stake...His ambitious survey breaks the mould of both confessional and reductionist historiography with an even-handed and sympathetic account of Anabaptist, Catholic and Protestant martyrdom which casts fresh light on early modern Christianity as a whole as well as on the emerging denominations. It should be emphasized that this book is an analytical study of martyrdom, and not itself a martyrology. It draws on original compilations such as those of John Foxe, Thieliman van Braght and Richard Verstegan, yet it is itself historical, not hagiographical...Unlike many monographs arising from doctoral dissertations, this one has been distilled, rather than diluted, on its way to the press. The distillate is all that you might expect from Princeton-trained scholar: learned, logical, lucid. The inspiration of Peter Brown, Anthony Grafton and Heiko Oberman is not only invoked in the acknowledgements, but evident in the intellectual breadth of the achievement, which boldly transgresses confessional, national and linguistic boundaries at a time when myopic specialization has become normative. So many books are published now that it seems arrogant to define any of them as required reading. But Salvation At Stake is a book which nobody working in the field of Reformation and early modern history can afford to pass over. And it is not just required reading; it is rewarding, too, amply deserving the Harvard University Press Thomas J. Wilson Prize for the best first book of the year. Anyone who enjoyed Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars, or Diarmaid MacCulloch's Cranmer, will find this just as good.
Steven Ozment
As learned, sympathetic, and deeply penetrating a treatment of the period's religious history as will ever be written. It is the definitive study of its subject in solid, tried and true, traditional historical terms.
William Monter
This is a genuinely impressive piece of work. Brad Gregory has really defined a completely new subfield of Reformation studies, the cross-confessional study of martyrologies.
French History - Peter Marshall
This is undoubtedly a major achievement, particularly for a first book. Gregory has read extraordinarily widely in both primary and secondary sources, and dissects both the assurance and élan. It deserves a wide readership both for its substantial contribution to the scholarship on martyrdom, and for the vigour of its polemic about good and bad ways to write religious history.
Commonweal - Marcia L. Colish
Brad Gregory's important and highly original book is a social history of religion that eschew the reductionism that treats religious practices as "behaviors" having no transcendent meaning. That is welcome news, as is the forthright way in which Gregory critiques earlier scholarly approaches to his topic...Aside from enriching our understanding of how martyrdom functioned for Reformation Christians, and aside from his trenchant critique of methodologies that fail to give martyrs their due, Gregory offers something to readers seeking transhistorical insights. The very empathy, evenhandedness, and historical imagination that enable Gregory to recapture the age of religious intolerance can enable ecumenically minded Christians to listen to Christians of other persuasions, and to take their doctrines seriously while avoiding the temptation to trivialize or relativize them in aid of an easy but ultimately vacuous accommodation. By showing us where we have been, Gregory gives us intellectual tools for envisioning and shaping the kinds of destinations we may define for ourselves.
Theological Studies - Michael W. Maher
Gregory's massive research has emphasized how Protestant, Anabaptist, and Catholic martyrs rooted their actions in their understanding of the scripture…Certainly the modern reader, in our ecumenical age, is repulsed by the concept that men and women could read the same gospel and kill each other over its interpretation. This lack of comprehension, however, is a modern problem, one that those pursuing historical theology cannot ignore. Here Gregory's study returns us to the fundamental issues that both supported and created the early modern martyr and the subsequent martyrologies of the age.
Church History - Peter Matheson
This well-structured book focuses on the engagement of English Protestants with the history of the medieval church from whose rites and values they had so decidedly disengaged...This book offers a fresh, slightly provocative perspective and as such is to be warmly welcomed, not least as the debates about the periodization of church history continue.
Richard Rex
Anyone who enjoyed Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars, or Diarmaid MacCulloch's Cranmer, will find this just as good.
Times Literary Supplement [UK]
Library Journal
Awarded this year's Thomas J. Wilson Prize, this book by Gregory (history, Stanford Univ.) covers martyrdom in the 1500s, when thousands died for their respective Christian beliefs. Separate chapters look at Protestant, Anabaptist, and Catholic martyrs. Strikingly, he suggests, martyrs believed that prolonging their lives was secondary to the absolute value of fidelity to God. As members of their religious communities, they were the living embodiment of what they believed; they showed a purposeful clarity and articulate resolve startling to modern readers. Gregory also examines such contested beliefs as papal primacy, believer's baptism, and justification by faith. He draws from any and all sources, including those written by antagonists who often intended to condemn false martyrs and justify their executions. And although he often allows the martyrs to speak for themselves, he also assists us in understanding these people without judging them by our current cultural or psychological theories. This extensive, well-written, and gripping book is highly recommended for both history and theological collections.--George Westerlund, Providence P.L., Palmyra, VA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674007048
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2001
  • Series: Harvard Historical Studies Series , #134
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 544
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Brad S. Gregory is Dorothy G. Griffin Associate Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame.
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Table of Contents

A Note on Translations and Orthography

A Complex of Martyrs

On Understanding Early Modern Christianity

The Nature of the Martyrological Sources

The Course of Exposition

The Late Medieval Inheritance

The Absence and Presence of Martyrs in the Late Middle Ages

Suffering Patiently, Dying Well, and the Passion of Christ

Christian Martyrs outside the Church in the Late Middle Ages

The Willingness to Kill

Prosecuting Religious Criminals

The Duty of Intolerance

The Trajectory of Argumentation

Laws, Institutions, and the Contingencies of Practice

The Willingness to Die

The Poverty of Theory

Foundations: Faith and Scripture

Contemporary Communities: Social Support and Sustenance

Historical Communities: Pedigrees of the Persecuted

Prison Activities: Practicing the Beliefs

The Art of Dying Well

Witnesses for the Gospel: Protestants and Martyrdom

The Early Evangelical Martyrs and Emergent Protestant Identity

Avoiding Idolatry, Following Christ: Convictions to Die For

The Midcentury Martyrologies

The Protestant Martyrologies in National Contexts

Nachfolge Christi: Anabaptists and Martyrdom

Müntzer to Münster: Forging an Anabaptist

Martyrological Mentality

Anabaptist Martyrs in the Low Countries

The Transformation of the Dutch Mennonite Martyrological Tradition

The New Saints: Roman Catholics and Martyrdom

Defensive Martyrdom: The Henrician Catholics

The Passion for Passion in Post-Tridentine Catholicism

The Role of the Martyrs in Catholic Devotional Life

The Conflict of Interpretations

The Weaknesses of Nondoctrinal Criteria

"Not the Punishment, but the Cause, Makes a Martyr"

Implications and Conclusions

Conclusion: A Shared and Shattered Worldview

Appendix

Notes

Index

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