Lay Reading, Writing, and Religious Authority in Fifteenth-Century Germany

Doctoral Dissertation


More vernacular literature came out of fifteenth-century Germany than any other time and place in the Middle Ages. Nearly all of it was religious, and nearly all of it taught the same foundational lessons about Christian belief, life, and salvation over and over. These books reflect a massive movement of pastoral theology aimed at filtering scholastic theology into its most basic teaching to reach as many lay people as possible, which Berndt Hamm has called Frömmigkeitstheologie. They also indicate the choice of many literate Germans to supplement their religious lives through reading. This dissertation investigates the impact of this body of literature through the writers overlooked by the top-down focus of a Frömmigkeitstheologie paradigm: lay people.

Claiming the writing of visionaries Katharina Tucher, Magdalena Beutler von Freiburg, Elisabeth Achler von Reute, and Ursula Haider alongside the poetry of the far better known barber and Meistersinger, Hans Folz, for the study of fifteenth-century religion, this dissertation identifies a subconscious spiritual tension hidden in their diverse works over the authority of the Church and its clergy. This inchoate unease, barely or not perceived by the writers at all, arose from their particularly strong affinity for religious literature. It came the closest to the surface when sin and confession were the topics, and ultimately came to rest in the writers’ perceptions of the human element: the person of the confessor. Though these authors were exceptions among the already exceptional, their choice of literary strategies transmitted their own unease to their audiences. Fifteenth-century German Christians were incubating questions about religious authority—but questions they did not recognize and could not ask.


Attribute NameValues
Author Caitlin Stevenson
Contributor John Van Engen, Research Director
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Medieval Studies
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
Banner Code
  • PHD-MI

Defense Date
  • 2019-03-05

Submission Date 2019-03-27
  • Visions

  • History

  • Middle Ages

  • Literature

  • Religion

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units
Catalog Record


Please Note: You may encounter a delay before a download begins. Large or infrequently accessed files can take several minutes to retrieve from our archival storage system.