The Primacy of the Postils

Catholics, Protestants, and the Dissemination of Ideas in Early Modern Germany


Scholarship on the German Reformation has long equated preaching with Protestantism, just as many scholars have employed sermons but usually in supplemental and unsystematic ways. Based on an analysis of over 400 standard sermon collections (postils) produced by Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists (1520-1620), this study offers the first comprehensive, systematic presentation of these works from a cross-confessional perspective. It lays to rest the notion that preaching was somehow distinctively Protestant while tracing the creation, production, use, and censorship of postils. These sermon collections were nothing less than the applied distillation of Christianity delivered on a regular basis by the clergy to the laity, and as such the most important vehicle for the dissemination of ideas in early modern Germany.
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Biographical Note

John M. Frymire, Ph.D. (2001) in History, University of Arizona, is Associate Professor of History at the University of Missouri.

Review Quotes

“[…] a study of the best kind, not only presenting significant new material but crammed with ideas for future research.”
Amy Nelson Burnett, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In: Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 42, No. 1 (2012), pp. 182-183.

“[Frymire’s] book is nothing less than a thorough bibliographical study of postils in the first century of Reformation Germany. […] Scholarship has woefully underappreciated postils when one considers the numerically staggering printed output and the service to preaching. […] we may hope that his monograph will arouse the sustained scholarly attention that early modern postils deserve. ”
Hilmar M. Pabel, Simon Fraser University. In: The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 62, No. 2 (April 2011), pp. 390-391.

Table of contents


A Note on Conventions and Abbreviations


1. Catholic Preaching and the German Reformation? Postils and their Production, 1520-1535
A. Preaching the Word in Late Medieval Germany
B. “Mein allerbestes Buch”: Tradition and Innovation in Luther’s Church Postils
C. A Paradigm in Need of Revision: The Catholic Response to the German Reformation
D. Meeting Luther on His Own Terms: The Religious and Propagandistic Functions of Catholic Postils, 1530-1535

2. Re-Invention, Innovation, and Reaction: Lutheran and Catholic Postils, 1535-1555
A. Improving Upon the Praeceptor: Lutheran Postillators, 1535-1546
B. Reaction and Innovation: Catholic Postil Production, 1536-1546
C. Catholic Preaching, Printing, and Self-Censorship in the Wake of the Augsburg Interim
D. A Cautious Postillator: Johann Wild’s Postille and Preaching in the Archdiocese of Mainz
E. One Remnant Suffering Under the Cross: Lutheran Postillators, 1547-1555
F. Catholic Printing and the Reformation: The Yield of Catholic Postil Production, 1530-1555

3. Matches Made in Heaven: Lutheran Postillators in the Service of their Princes, 1555-1620
A. Renewed Uses for Old Texts: Pericopes in the Service of Confessional Indoctrination and Discipline
B. Tenure of Office and Duration of Production: Lutheran Officials and Their Postils
C. Out of Print: The Preservation of the Praeceptor and the Decline of His Church Postils
D. Fodder catholic or Catholic? Pericopes as the Harvest of the Ancient Church
E. Verging on Hypocrisy: Postillenschreiber as Enablers of Postillenreiter
F. Lutheran Postil Production, 1555-1620: Implications and Questions

4. Excursus: Calvinist Postils? The Pragmatism of German Reformed Postillators

5. Catholic Postillenfresser: Postils, Catholic Reform, and the Counter-Reformation
A. Continuity and Rupture: German Particularism and the Slow Death of the Via media
B. Plagiarizing Plagiarists: The Repossession of Spangenberg and Corvin
C. A Definitive Transition: Postils and the Primacy of Doctrine after 1570

6. Correcting Catholicicsm: Censorship, Confessional Consolidation, and the Decline of Homegrown Postillators
A. The Limits of Reform Discourse and the Litmus of Orthodoxy: Catholic Postils in an Era of Uncertainty
B. At the Hands of Censors: The Use and Abuse of Johann Wild
C. The Last of the Popular German Postillators: Production in the Wake of Catholic Consolidation after 1590
D. Exiles and Immigrants: The Dominance of Medieval and Foreign Postils after 1600

Appendices & Tables
Introduction & Directions for Use
Methods of Selection
Methods of Abbreviation
Methods of Calculating Total Printings to ca. 1620, Year of First Edition, etc.
Confessional Designation of Authors
The Issue of Latin and German Editions and Translations

Appendix 1: Catholic and Protestant Postils by Year of First Printing
Appendix 2: Catholic and Protestant Postils by Author (with select annotations)
Addendum: Notes on Select Postils Listed as 1621-1650 by Rublack, “Lutherische Predigt,” (1992)
Appendix 3: Complete Sets of Catholic Postils by Year of Each Printing
Appendix 4: Luther’s Postils

Table 1: Catholic Postil Production: The Data
Table 2: Catholic Postil Production in the Empire, 1525-1620
Table 3: Luther’s Church- and House Postils, 1521-1620

Manuscript Sources
Printed Primary Sources
Select Secondary Sources



Those interested in Early Modern Germany, the Reformation, the history of German Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism, the history of preaching, the dissemination of ideas, and the history of printing and censorship.


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