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書評 | 自存檔 | Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion


Book Review: Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion, by Andrew Pettegree (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, pp. 237.)

If sixteenth-century Protestant reformers like Luther, Calvin and Zwingli could have overheard Victor Hugo’s theory of the Reformation as “ceci tuera cela”, i.e. as the victory of the Bible (or the printed book) over the old Church, would they possibly respond with an approving nod? In Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion, upon examining the various communicative media at work in the expression and dissemination of the Reformation message, leading Reformation historian Andrew Pettegree concludes that it can be both anachronistic and simplifying to view the book as the decisive novum organum of the Reformation. The dissemination of the idea of Reformation was an arduous process of persuasion and conversion that profoundly engaged the participation of both clergy and laity, and during this dynamic process, the printed book was not the only potent medium that had played a crucial part.

1. The Book in Context and the Culture of Persuasion and Belonging

Pettegree’s concern of testifying the impact of printing and the book during the Reformation is the “plot” underlying the book’s major chapters, as he states that this book germinated from his interest in the Lutheran Flugschriften, and that one of its principal objectives is to “relocate the role of the book as part of a broader range of modes of persuasion that used every medium and discourse of communication familiar to pre-industrial society (8)”. This attempt to contextualize Reformation printing and the book not only leads to an examination of the book/printing industry (Chapters 5-7), but also to a comprehensive study of the communicative function of various other media, like sermon, music, and drama (Chapters 2-4), each of them assisting in the delivery of the Reformation message and shaping the Reformation culture of persuasion and belonging in its unique manner.

Sermon-preaching, with its theatricality and its rhetoric of “lists, paired contrasts, repetition, summary and reiteration (39)” that can have a particularly potent communicative effect over “illiterate and semi-literate population (39)”, is an important medium that gained for Luther and Calvin their popularity (and a fundamental one too, since delivering sermons is also the preacher’s regular duty). Consequently, the emulation of Luther's and Zwingli's sermons by ministers across Central Europe is also an important way in which the Reformation truly became a movement in its first years (25).

Singing is also a medium that unifies. The Protestant congregational song (like the Lutheran hymns and the Calvinist psalms), with its compellingly clear articulation, its use of the vernacular languages and its adaptation of popular melodies, became an ideal medium held with great importance by the reformers for the expression of “a lively commitment to an active religion (41)” and a powerful gesture that determines to substitute the canon of the Catholic Mass for the Word of God that can be shared and responded to by everyone in the congregation. It is also a highly contagious medium. For instance, new polemical songs consciously and strategically adopted contrafacta, borrowing lyrics and melodies from traditional Catholic music or popular vernacular music, while subverting or enhancing the meaning of the original (51-52). This strategy makes the new songs easy to memorize and quick to spread within a community.

Drama was also regarded by the reformers as an effective pedagogic tool. For instance, the Lutheran reformers encompassed drama in their educational project. It was regarded as an important pedagogic tool and was, therefore, part of the school curriculum (81, 92). Furthermore, since “all the arts and the senses" can be bent to “the praise and promotion of a rational understanding of faith (88)”, it is easy for drama to conceal its pedagogic intent to persuade and convert the audience in secret. For instance, in the latter half of the century, although with the rate of literacy growing and the commercialization of the theatre (which is particularly prominent in England), the biblical mystery drama gradually lost favor, the protestant values were still preserved and reinforced through secular plays, and, Pettegree argues, this reinforcement under a secular context is particularly effective because “the proselytizing was largely unconscious (99)”.

It is in this nebula of different media that printing operates in the making and distribution of Reformation ideas, as Pettegree argues when discussing the clandestine publication-distribution system in Geneva and France:


Books, though they could inspire and motivate a limited number of determined autodidacts, still proved most effective when they played a supporting role among other media of evangelical agitation (176).


Specifically, Pettegree thinks that apart from the fact that the book shaped the Reformation, “it must also be acknowledged that the Reformation did much to reshape the book (128)” in that the demands of the Reformation book market shaped and changed the printing industry towards the mass production of small books and cheap prints. The book before the Reformation were heavily influenced by the manuscript tradition. It was only toward the end of the fifteenth century, with the gradual independence of the book industry from aristocratic patronage and the increasing need for commercialization, that small books and cheap print were produced in massive numbers. According to Pettegree, it is precisely the Reformation that accelerated this process of industrialization, which, as he also emphasizes, is not a uniform process in all regions of Europe (134). That the Reformation changed the outlook of the book industry can be best illustrated in the case of Wittenberg, where the booming of the printing industry during the sixteenth century was the direct result of the popularity of Luther's works. This industrial boom quite “defied the commercial logic of the city's rather isolated location (135)”, promoting the development of a series of ancillary trades as well. Calvin’s Geneva offered a similar example, where the book trade flourished despite the city's location which “made no clear economic sense (141)” and was almost solely the result of political and cultural factors: first of all, there is Calvin's renown as an author and preacher, which in turn attracted established printers such as Jean Crespin (Date) and Robert Estienne (Date) to Geneva to set up their printing press. Besides, the influx of political refugees to Geneva also considerably extended the book market. Different from Wittenberg, where political censorship on books was comparably more relaxed, Geneva developed a clandestine distribution network of books that would be “replicated everywhere when the trade in Protestant books was inhibited in the second half of the sixteenth-century (146)”. This harsh climate of censorship also turned the Reformation printers’ focus from large folio books to small quarto or octavo books and cheap prints when disseminating polemical views. Small books and cheap prints had better market value and were easier to produce in great quantity and to be distributed under cover. Subsequently, the Protestant communities took to the cheap prints, anonymous leafleting, and pamphlet making as important means of influencing public opinions.

One particular form of cheap print that characterizes the Reformation era is the pamphlet, for the communicative effect of which Pettegree devotes an entire chapter to discuss. Much like the role of the book, Pettegree thinks that the persuasive power of the pamphlets comes from, to a large extent, their symbolic connotations rather than the content of the text they actually bore. The fact that Reformation pamphlets were frequently collected (like the receuils of the Condéan pamphlets during the French Religious War) indicate that people cherished and valued pamphlets because it is the “crowd-made text”: collectively, the pamphlets created the impression of the overwhelming tide calling for change, and it is often this overall impression that the Reformation is an “irresistible force”, rather than the specific content of each individual pamphlet, that contributes to the process of persuasion (163). It is the act of purchasing and collecting the reformer's pamphlets, not necessarily the understanding of the text, that defines allegiance and commitment to the Reformation cause.

This also effectively called the persuasive effect of the act of “reading” into question. According to Pettegree, books were not only bought to be read, but on many occasions, they were only bought for their symbolic value as artifacts or badges of identity (157-158), therefore the purchase of books does not necessarily mean the adsorption of the text or the idea thereby conveyed. In fact, as Pettgree argues, the act of reading itself was still a cultural custom that was in the process of formation. Sixteenth-century culture was still communal and collective in nature, preserving its orality despite the rapid development of printing and the more private reading habit it gradually shaped into being. The process of opinion-forming, crucial to one’s being persuaded and converted, also “took place in a communal, rather than a private setting (53)”. From Pettegree’s assessment, the majority of the readers of the small books were still those who could afford the large, expensive ones (159), i.e. the literate elites or the literate bourgeois.

By relocating the book in the context of a range of aural-visual media that operated in a culture still featuring prominently in orality rather than literacy, Pettegree goes on to address the more general question of “why did people choose the Reformation” by viewing the usage of these media as essential components of the Reformation culture of persuasion and belonging. As badges of identities or belonging, both the reformers and the congregation use them to solidify their identification, dissociating themselves from old religious/political ties and forming new solidarities.

Pettegree defines this experience of conversion as a “layered and complex process (6)”. On the one hand, conversion can be an active choice, but it can also be passive or unconscious adherence with “little real choice (3)”. On the other hand, the process of persuasion and conversion involves not only the sudden revelation, like Luther’s Turmerlebnis, narrated and replicated by various reformers and converts, but it also involves the process of the “slow and painstaking creation of active Christian citizens (7)”, of the gradual reformation of Christian education to build new solidarities, and of the fierce ideological battles to reject new enemies.

The maintenance of these new religious solidarities was also a “protean, active process (187)” in which “many parishioners were active and willing participants (187).” For instance, the parishioners were actively learning new Protestant music while collecting catechisms and the Bible as badges of identity for the “godly home” (189-190). The reidentification of kins is another way of forming new solidarities. Protestant communities often compiled and rewrote their martyrology to create a “collective inferred heritage (202)” for their new religious community. In these activities of heritage claiming, as the case of the Dutch complication of Adriaen van Haemsted vividly demonstrated (206), recent Protestant martyrs are recorded in typographical unity with the early church martyrs, forming a strong sense of tradition, heritage, and identification. The separation of the Protestant calendar and annual festivities from the Catholic ones is of equal symbolic import (207-210). This creates two distinct cultural worlds within Europe, each celebrating its own pubic festivals and rituals. However, in parts of Europe where the victory of the Protestant churches was unfulfilled or indecisive, such as the case with the Huguenots in France, the self-identification of the parishioners could be more reserved and introverted, in that they tended to confine not only their religious relations, but also their social ones, to the members of their own (194), remaining in incessant tension with the Catholic communities but unable to become a completely autonomous solidarity, distinct from what they identify as their enemies.

Nevertheless, through the spreading of the Reformation message by various media and the crowd's social activism to form new identifications and new solidarities, “the laity had built their religious life round a culture of belonging: rich, complex and active (213)”, transforming a wide ranging of media of expressions (from the singing of new psalms to the collection of pamphlets, from the printer's device to the medals and emblems, from the new martyrologies to new calendars and festivals) into badges of belonging. Although as each section of the book has demonstrated, there is “an inevitable disjunction (213)” between this culture of belonging promoting church building and the reformers' original message and intention, the active, formative power of the crowd cannot be easily denied. In fact, all the major arguments in this book seem to be pointing to one direction: The Reformation did shape the crowd, but the crowd, with its activism and consciousness, also profoundly shaped the Reformation.

2. The Multi-media Reformation

Based on the above-mentioned arguments, Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion offered a more complicated picture of the cultural milieu of the Reformation. The book did play an important part in the dissemination of the Reformation message, and the printing was indeed a booming new industry that had considerable shaping functions over culture and economy, but the printed page was not the only medium that deserves to be characterized as the agent of the Reformation. The Reformation happened in a multi-media context, in which the visual media did not necessarily preside over the aural and oral ones. “Multi-media” also means the interactions and inter-dependence of these different media. For instance, Pettegree remarks that the prosperity of music and the demand for musical scores during and after the Renaissance led to “significant developments in print culture (43)”, promoting special types for printing musical notations. To prevent printing the notes off-key, which was very likely to happen with the method of double impression that printed the notes after printing the five-bar stave, the printers of the Calvinist psalms in Geneva devised specialized types for musical notes, each not accompanied by a small portion of the five-bar stave.

This view of the “multi-media Reformation” enriches the scholarship on the relationship between printing and early modern society. As Pettegree points out in the first chapter, since the publication of Elizabeth Eisenstein’s monumental work The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (1979), two premises have been dominant in Reformation studies: first, the book was an “optimistic progress-orientated agenda of change (7)”; second, “Protestanism was the religion of the book (7)”. Pettegree does not deny the social significance of printing or the book, but his emphasis on the communal nature of Reformation culture and the interplay of different communicative media shows that these two dominant scholarly premises may be anachronistic and simplifying. The modern prioritization of printing and reading may lead to the negligence of the effect of other communicative media, and the fact that many of these other sixteen-century media (like the spoken impromptu sermons and the songs) are not preserved in their intact forms could also add to this negligence. Pettegree’s book is a cautious reminder that the written word should go hand in hand with the spoken word in early modern culture, and the early modern prioritization of orality and literacy may also be very different from the modern primacy of literacy.

This observation is very insightful and persuasive since Pettegree also offers testaments from sixteenth-century people themselves on the impact of not only one medium, but a mélange of different media. For instance, Samuel Apiarus, the printer of the play Goliath (155) by the German playwright Hans von Rüte stated in the foreword of the play:


For truly, God speaks to us now in many ways, extending to us his holy word not only in sermons, but also in books, in writings, in psalms and religious songs, and in elegant plays, through which the more prominent stories are taken from Holy Scripture, repeated, refreshed, and portrayed as if they were alive before people’s eyes, so that we may well say that the wisdom of God shouts and cries in the street (88).


According to Apiarus, the meaning of the “word of God” is not confined to the written word. The spoken word, the melodies, and the sight, all have their part to play in disseminating the word of God. In fact, this perception is also an instinctive and rectifiable experience for us, if we could consider how modern political or social movements also heavily rely and depend on a combination of different media for the promotion of their ideological propaganda. In this sense, the study of Pettegree is also one that echoes the sociological methods of D. F. Mckenzie and the media studies of Marshall McLuhan, for as McLuhan puts it, “no medium has its meaning or existence alone, but only in constant interplay with other media (162).”

However, Pettegree’s argument does not cease with the fact that different media coexist and interact with each other. He also argues that the acquisition and consumption of the content delivered by a certain medium do not mean or guarantee “understanding”. For instance, People may go to a sermon, but they may or may not take in the message that the preacher intended to convey. In the case of the Reformation, the lay congregation's iconoclastic attacks on the old Church could go beyond the expectation and restraints of the preachers (31), and it is out of the preacher's power to decide how the congregation may interpret the new evangelical doctrine, as Luther’s “priesthood of all believers” has political and social import that goes beyond his theological and doctrinal intentions (32). The same thing happens to the consumption of the contents of visual media. People may acquire and collect books and pamphlets for their symbolic values rather than for their specific contents, and even if they do read the book from cover to cover, chances of misinterpretation and misunderstanding still loom large.

In the chapter “The Visual Image”, Pettegree further extends this argument to art and painting. Even in the case of the picture, which is generally supposed to be easier to comprehend than written words, misinterpretation can be common. Since the publication of Robert Scribner’s authoritative research on German Reformation woodcuts For the Sake of Simple Folk (1994), the notions that “prints are books of the unlearned (104)”, and that even if the images were complex, the accompanying texts were always read aloud and thus can be always explained to the less literate people (112), are widespread. Pettegree calls both notions into doubt. Aside from the fact that woodcuts/visual images were not the necessary media used by the reformers (for instance, the French Huguenot pamphlets were purposefully devoid of visuals adornments, but they remained effective), Pettegree also evokes a number of difficulties to Scribner’s conclusions. First, visual deficiencies, which may not be uncommon at the time (107-109) may distort one’s perception of the image, and thus their message may not be clear and indubitable in the first place. Besides, complex images containing intricate theological allusions and narrative strategies may also bring about difficulties in correctly “reading” the pictures (114, 116), and scant direct historical evidence exists as to the reformation motif of literate elite reading and explaining to the illiterate, and even if it does exist, “there is little evidence that such reading actually played any substantial part in the dissemination of text (119)”, especially concerning the dissemination of the political message of pamphlets and woodcuts. Therefore, according to Pettegree, the widespread view that Reformation culture features in public reading (reading aloud) by the literate to the illiterate with the aid of images, is not a precise reconstruction for its over-emphasis on the primacy of the medium of the visual image. According to Pettegree, in the sixteenth century, the woodcut tradition had been and was closely related to illustrations for the literate elites (121) and expensive religious books, even though the usage of traditional expensive religious books like the Book of Hours declined during and after the Protestant Reformation and artisans of woodcuts composed for secular publications, but woodcuts were still “largely confined to those who were partisans of the new movement, and who were educated enough to enjoy and appreciate their references and allusions (123)”. Therefore, much like the case of the book, Pettegree does not view art and painting as a primary instrument of conversion during the Reformation. 

But it is also in this particularly illuminating chapter that some of the minor deficiencies of the book occurred. For instance, in order to question Scribner’s theory, Pettegree dedicates an entire section to the possibility that deficiencies in visual sight may not be uncommon in sixteenth-century Europe and thus may increase the difficulty of reading the image correctly. However, almost all the pages of the section were about how eye deficiencies could have happened in sixteenth-century Europe. In fact, it does not sufficiently respond to the question of how this might affect the reading and interpretation of Reformation broadsheets and pamphlets. Therefore, compared with the other more direct responses to the view and premises of Scribner, which Pettegree intends to discuss, this discussion on blunted sight seems to me to be a digressive point, even a potentially ineffectual one (if the majority of people cannot read the images due to, for instance, myopia, then why are the woodcuts on broadsheets still very intricate and full of intricate details?), even though it is a highly engaging and interesting section.

A seeming disproportion in arguments similar to this occurs in “Reformers on stage”. Unlike previous discussions of the sermon and the song that tackles both preacher/composer and their audience, the discussion of the Reformation drama only very occasionally mention the reaction from the audience and how the dramas impacted them. Since nuanced distinctions were made in the discussion of the communicative/pedagogic effect written and printed sermon and music, the reader of the book may expect to read a similar comparison in the section concerning drama, but the chapter only made a brief mention of how the pedagogic and informative potential of the drama can be enhanced when it was both performer and printed (84). However, the question seems to be of particular interest for the main objective of the book, since evidence has shown that drama at the time “offered a particularly effective synergy of different modes of communication (87)”.

Moreover, it seems to me that more observations could be made on how the counter-reformers convey their ideas and how these ideas were received in the sixteenth century multi-media environment. Since Pettegree emphasizes that the use of the book is not an exclusive Protestant phenomenon, and he also mentions that the Catholic Churches, “despite initial uncertainty, never wholly resigned their interest in vernacular Scripture (192)”, it would be reasonable (and perhaps more satisfying) to include discussions on the relationship between cultural media and non-Protestant religious/political camps.

But the innovative views and inspirations this book offers far outweighs, in my opinion, these minor deficiencies in chapter or argument arrangement. Not only does the book offer persuasive reconstructions of the cultural milieu of the Reformation, which would be of great interest and value for scholars on early modern history and book history, but its reflections on the complexities of the social impact of and the interactions between different cultural media is also illuminating for disciplines like media studies and cultural studies, or for anyone concerned with how the media can affect people and what role they could play in social movements that is life-changing for every individual within that society.


References

1. Pettegree, Andrew. Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion. Cambridge University Press, 2005.

2. McLuhan, Marshall. Essential McLuhan. Edited by Eric McLuhan and Frank Zingrone. London: Routledge, 1995.

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