Book Recommendation: Forerunners of the Reformation

Heiko A. Oberman, Forerunners of the Reformation:  The Shape of Late Medieval Thought Illustrated by Key Documents

In this work Oberman provides a late medieval theological reader.  Oberman effectively demonstrates that many ideas of the Reformation were matters of debate in the period immediately leading up to the Reformation.  There were many “forerunners” who struggled with many of the same issues that the later Reformers would also address.

One of the great contributions of this work is the long (50 page) introduction (chapter one) which outlines the case for the existence of forerunners of the Reformation.  Oberman shows this concept as dating all the way back to Augustine’s City of God and its two “churches”: of Abel and Cain respectively.    There was also a self-awareness of this concept among the late medieval thinkers to the extent that several of these thinkers saw themselves as precursors of something yet to come.  Additionally, Luther saw himself as following in the footsteps of certain key individuals like Jan Huss and Wessel Gansfort.

In the remainder of this volume, Oberman provides readings from primary sources in the areas of “Scripture and Tradition” (chapter two), “Justification: Man’s Eternal Predestination” (chapter three), “The Church” (chapter four), “The Eucharist” (chapter five), and “Exegesis” (chapter six).

The following is an outline of the contents of these chapters with the titles and authors of the excerpts:

Chapter Two – Scripture and Tradition

  • Treatise on Faith, the Church, the Roman Pontiff, and the General Council by John Brevicoxa
  • Excerpt from a Letter of Jacob Hoeck to Wessel Gansfort
  • From the Letter in Reply to Jacob Hoeck by Wessel Gansfort

Chapter Three – Justification: Man’s Eternal Predestination

  • Lectures on the Wisdom of Solomon by Robert Holcot
  • The Cause of God Against the Pelagians by Thomas Bradwardine
  • The Circumcision of the Lord by Gabriel Biel
  • Eternal Predestination and its Execution in Time by Johann von Staupitz

Chapter Four – The Church

  • The Church by Jan Hus
  • Execrabilis by Pope Pius II

Chapter Five – The Eucharist

  • The Celebration of the Mass by Cardinal Cajetan, Thomas De Vio
  • Word and Sacrament by Sylvester Prierias
  • A Most Christian Letter by Cornelisz Hoen

Chapter Six – Exegesis

  • Introduction to Commentary on the Psalms, and
  • Introduction to the Commentaries on Paul’s Letters by Jacobus Faber Stapulensis
  • Laurentius Valla’s Annotations to the New Testament by Desiderius Erasmus

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