Amy Nelson Burnett

Debating the Sacraments: Print and Authority in the Early Reformation

The evangelical movement fragmented in 1525 over the understanding the Eucharist.  In 1527, when the debate was at its peak, more than 20% of all books printed in the German-speaking lands, and 36% of all pamphlets, concerned the Lord’s Supper. What started out as a disagreement over the presence of Christ’s body grew to include questions about the sacraments in general, which had implications for the understanding of baptism. The public debate was carried out as a series of exchanges not only between well-known reformers but also between parish pastors, schoolmasters, and artisans. Editors, translators, and printers contributed to the controversy by altering and formatting texts to appeal to specific audiences and to increase the level of polemic. My examination of this debate highlights the role of print in the circulation of ideas earlier condemned as heretical and in the development of positions that would be enshrined in the earliest evangelical catechisms and confessions.