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Published in Central European History 33:1 (2000), pp. 67–85. Copyright © 2000 by Humanities Press, Inc./Brill Academic Publishers. Used by permission.


One aspect of the larger debate on the long-term consequences of the Reformation is the role played by the clergy as mediators of religious and social change. Proponents of confessionalization generally assume that the Protestant and Tridentine Catholic clergy played a prominent role in this process. As representatives of both church and state who lived in daily contact with their parishioners, the pastors were well situated to transmit official norms from those above to those below. As a consequence, the clergy are routinely regarded as willing agents of the secular authority who were largely successful in their efforts to turn their parishioners into obedient subjects. Until fairly recently, however, scholars have paid little attention to how the clergy actually functioned as mediators of official religious and moral norms. In fact, as Hans-Christoph Rublack has pointed out, Lutheran pastors faced many difficulties in their relations with their parishioners. Clergy frequently complained about the disrespect shown them by the peasants who comprised their congregations. The pastors’ need to accommodate themselves to village norms often limited their ability to act as the representatives of secular authority. Clearly, further case studies of the clergy at the local level are necessary in order to understand and to evaluate their role as mediators of confessional and social discipline.

An examination of the Protestant pastors and their parishioners in the villages governed by Basel in the century after the Reformation illustrates the challenges faced by the clergy as mediators between the authorities and the peasants. Basel had a relatively small rural territory, which facilitated greater supervision of the rural church by both ecclesiastical and secular officials and closer ties between the urban and the rural clergy than was possible elsewhere in Switzerland. Here, if anywhere, the rural pastors should have functioned effectively as mediators of social and confessional discipline. Their successes and their failures lead us to a more nuanced view of the early modern Protestant clergy than does the traditional hierarchical and unidirectional model.

In order to evaluate the effectiveness of Basel’s clergy, however, it is necessary to know something about them. Accordingly, in this paper I will look first at the formation of the rural pastoral corps. I will then describe their interactions with their parishioners, focusing particularly on how successful they were in persuading their parishioners to accept and to internalize the new standards of belief and behavior. On this basis I will be able to assess the role played by Basel’s rural pastors as mediators of confessionalization.

Figures discussed include: Johannes Oecolampadius, Oswald Myconius, Martin Bucer, Johannes Gast, Simon Sulzer, Johann Jakob Grynaeus, Johann Tryphius, Amandus Polanus, Leonhard Strübin, Heinrich Strübin, and Leonhard Soerin.

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