Orality versus textuality in the Reformation: The origin and influence of textuality on theological perspectives in the sixteenth century
Freeman, James Atwood
Nielsen, Niels C.
Doctor of Philosophy
The Reformation could not have occurred without the invention of printing. However, it is a mistake to identify the Reformation with textuality. Orality played a role in the movement. In the Reformation, there were controversies based on a tension between orality and textuality. This tension was not the result of printing but influences based on a tradition of textuality. This can be traced through nominalism, Augustine, and the Platonic-Aristotelean tradition. The tension between orality and textuality has roots in the Greek tradition. Platonic philosophy was made possible by the invention of writing which created a focus other than oral tradition. Such a shift established the individual as distinct from the synthesis of the oral community. However, this shift also resulted in alienation which inspired the development of mysticism to restore the synthesis of orality. Augustine is an example of the transition from orality to textuality. Augustine's educational and cultural situation shaped his oral perspective. Social and economic crises created a sense of alienation. Augustine retreated from the anxiety of alienation to the gnosticism of the Manichaeans. Later, his association with neo-Platonism deconstructed the oral theology of Manichaeanism in favor of a theology of differentiation characterized by the Christian concept of a Trinitarian God. A similar situation can be observed in the late Middle Ages. The breakdown of the oral synthesis of Medieval Catholicism resulted in alienation. The growth of mysticism can be linked to alienation. Luther's oral background suggests that the influence of mysticism must be taken seriously. Nevertheless, he remains an ambiguous, transitional figure, insofar as his Theology of the Cross appears to be a product of a textual theology. The implications of a textual perspective are not to be found in Luther but in the humanistic theologians of the Reformation. There we may observe the incorporation of textuality into theology. Zwingli, Bucer, Melanchthon, and Calvin serve as models for such a textual theology. There we see the emphasis on the separation of sign from signified, and the hermeneutical role of the Spirit, as the vehicle for reconciling the separation of sign from signified, while not abolishing their autonomy.
Religious history; Linguistics; Theology