The German Catholic Dioceses and their Bishops on the eve of the Reformation

Methuen, C. (2017) The German Catholic Dioceses and their Bishops on the eve of the Reformation. In: Nelson, D., Hinlicky, P. and Mattox, M. L. (eds.) Oxford Encyclopedia of Martin Luther. Series: Oxford Research Encyclopedias - Religion. Oxford University Press: New York. ISBN 9780190461843 (doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.013.275)

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Abstract

The structures of the late-medieval church into which Luther was born and within which he received his education and theological training were complicated, particularly in the German lands. German bishops were territorial princes as well as spiritual leaders. Only a minority of German dioceses fell within temporal territories, but in most cases dioceses spanned several territories and some territories included areas in two or more dioceses. Abbots and abbesses were also rulers of independent territories, many of which answered only to the pope. Germany’s prince-bishops had considerable political power, exemplified in the college of electors who selected the Holy Roman Emperor. Of these seven, four were temporal political rulers: the King of Bohemia, Margrave of Brandenburg, the Count of the Palatine and the Duke of (Electoral) Saxony; but the remaining three were Germany’s three Archbishops: of Cologne, of Mainz and of Trier. Although such high-ranking church posts were not hereditary, the candidates for most German bishoprics were required to come from the high nobility, and many bishoprics effectively passed down families, or alternated between two families. The Archbishopric of Magdeburg, for instance, alternated between the families of the Electors of Saxony and of Brandenburg. In Wittenberg, the Elector of Saxony claimed spiritual jurisdiction over the castle church and later over the town, and this was ceded by the Archbishop. In consequence, long before the Reformation, bishops and rulers were vying for authority and sometimes for territory. The German churches which emerged in the course of the Reformation were deeply influenced by their local contexts and by the patterns of relationship between the bishops and temporal political authorities.

Item Type:Book Sections (Encyclopaedia entry)
Status:Published
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Methuen, Professor Charlotte
Authors: Methuen, C.
Subjects:B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
D History General and Old World > DD Germany
College/School:College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > Theology and Religious Studies
Publisher:Oxford University Press
ISBN:9780190461843
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