History, Department of


Date of this Version



Central European History 45:1 (2012), pp. 130-132; doi:10.1017/S0008938911001026


Copyright © 2012 Conference Group for Central European History of the American Historical Association; published by Cambridge University Press. Used by permission.


In the second half of the sixteenth century, as confessional tensions increased throughout Europe, the city of Wesel in northwestern Germany stood out as an example of religious toleration. An influx of refugees from the Netherlands in the mid-1550s and again in the later 1560s practically doubled the size of the officially Lutheran city, creating circumstances that could have led to confessional conflict. Instead, for four decades LutheranWeselers and Calvinist refugees lived together in relative harmony, until the balance tipped in favor of the Calvinists in the 1590s. In Tactics of Toleration, Jesse Spohnholz looks at the mechanisms that enabled the city’s residents to practice a degree of confessional coexistence unmatched elsewhere in the Holy Roman Empire. Spohnholz stresses that he is concerned not with the long-term development of confessional identity but with the short-term decisions that allowed people with different religious convictions to live alongside one another. He argues that confessional coexistence in Wesel was made possible by the fact that individuals had various options for expressing their confessional preference within the sphere of shared public worship established by religious and governmental authorities. From Wesel’s adoption of the Reformation in the early 1550s through the 1580s, these officials maintained a policy of promoting civic and religious unity. On the one hand, refugees were required to receive communion in the city’s churches rather than allowed to establish a congregation of their own. On the other hand, those who insisted most strongly on confessional purity, whether Lutheran or Calvinist, were expelled from the city. The two parish churches had some latitude in the performance of various ceremonies, and Calvinists gravitated toward the church where the pastor was willing to omit the exorcism from the baptismal service and to place the host in communicants’ hands rather than in their mouths during the Lord’s Supper, which made both rituals more acceptable to them. As a consequence of these policies, Wesel’s inhabitants could maintain a balance between Christian unity and confessional difference. A few individuals from both confessions received communion or took their babies to be baptized in neighboring communities that were more unambiguously Lutheran or Reformed, but most Weselers were able to fit within the broad parameters of their city’s church.