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Perhaps more than anywhere else, the imperial city of Augsburg was riven by disagreements over the proper understanding of the Lord’s Supper. In A Real Presence, Joel van Amberg examines the religious dissension in the city and relates it to the political and economic conditions of the 1520s. He argues that rejection of belief in Christ’s physical presence in the consecrated elements went hand-in-hand with rejection of a hierarchical system with mediators who controlled access to both economic and spiritual goods. By placing the theological debate within a specific social context, van Amberg gives new insight into a convoluted controversy.
A Real Presence begins with a description of Augsburg’s political and economic development through the later Middle Ages and into the sixteenth century. Fundamental for the course of the Reformation was the city’s attachment to the Habsburgs, which kept its political elite from too visible a break with the Catholic Church even as the city’s population became outspokenly evangelical. The magistrate’s refusal to endorse publicly one specific understanding of the Eucharist allowed preachers and printers to spread a variety of interpretations. Under these circumstances, Van Amberg argues, Augsburg’s artisans preferred a Zwinglian to a Lutheran interpretation of the Lord’s Supper. He is justifiably cautious in identifying those who opposed the Catholic and Lutheran views of the sacrament as Zwinglians, however, for he recognizes that others besides the Zurich Reformer contributed to the sacramentarian position.