History, Department of


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Published in Journal of Interdisciplinary History, xxxii:2 (Autumn, 2001), 217–242. Copyright © 2001 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the editors of The Journal of Interdisciplinary History. Used by permission.


It would be tempting to consider the outbreak of the Reformation as an episode of generational conflict, the ramifications of which continued during the next several generations of the sixteenth century. This article, however, focuses instead on a more limited instance of generational conflict, both temporally and geographically. Moreover, it looks not at the first generation of reformers but at their successors—-or, more precisely, at their successors’ successors—-at a time of transition from the second to the third generation of Protestant clergy.

The “Basel Paroxysm,” a conflict over the Lord’s Supper that shook the Basel church in 1570/71, illustrates the generation gap between the witnesses of the first Eucharistic controversy of the 1520s and those who grew up after the second controversy had broken out in the early 1550s. On one side of the conflict, Simon Sulzer, the leader of Basel’s church, invoked the irenical spirit of Martin Bucer, his teacher, in an effort to maintain peace within the city’s church. On the other side, a young pastor named Heinrich Erzberger claimed to be the true spiritual heir of Johann Oecolampadius, Ulrich Zwingli’s colleague and the founder of Basel’s church. The arguments that the two parties advanced, and the eventual outcome of the Paroxysm, reveal the importance of generational change and the depth of generational conflict a half century after the Reformation.

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