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Finding the Middle Way

, 608 pages
July 2003



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Finding the Middle Way

The Utraquists' Liberal Challenge to Rome and Luther

Can an orthodox Christian creed and ritual be combined with a liberal church administration and a tolerant civic acceptance of not-so-orthodox views and practices? This question—perennial among Catholics for the past two centuries and the goal of the Anglican quest for a via media—finds an affirmative answer in Zdenek V. David's history of the Utraquist church of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Bohemia.

This church declared its autonomy from the Roman church in 1415 after the Bohemian preacher Jan Hus, who had decried clerical abuses and opposed the pope's doctrinal and juridical authority, was condemned by a Roman church council and executed. Sometimes called "Hussitist" (a usage David attacks for exaggerating Hus's role; "Utraquist" is the Latinized form of the Czech name it adherents used) this Bohemian church administered its institutions and educated and managed its clergy independently of Rome for the next two hundred years.

David's book focuses on the middle course steered by the Utraquists after the onset of the Protestant Reformation. It rejected core Protestant beliefs, such as salvation by faith alone, and practices, going so far in emphasizing apostolic succession as to have its new priests ordained by Latin-rite or, in a few cases, Eastern-rite Uniate bishops. At the same time, the Utraquists pursued their orthodoxy by disputation rather than hurling anathemas and lived alongside Lutherans, the Unity of Brethren, and others. Ultimately the Utraquist church was reabsorbed into Roman Catholicism and its special features repressed in the Counter-Reformation.

Zdenek V. David was librarian of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars from 1974 to 2002. Educated as a historian (Ph.D. Harvard, 1960), he has published numerous articles on the history of Utraquism and on Jews in Czech historiography; he is coauthor of The Peoples of the Eastern Habsburg Lands, 1526-1918.

"A new interpretation of the Bohemian Revolution of the 16th century Czech Utraquist Church, viewed as a forerunner of modern liberal Catholicism."

"Ten years of dedicated research have yielded this impressive study adding considerably to knowledge of Central European religious history... The book expertly charts the unique development of Utraquist Christianity."

"[ Finding the Middle Way] redraws the religious map of central Europe."

"A welcome addition to the English-language literature available on the subject."

"Specialists in late medieval central European developments will profit much from David's synthesis of the interpretations."

"This book represents very important results of original research and a new approach to the problems of international discussion on religious (in)tolerance and intellectual heritage in European history. I am sure that specialists in church history and history of ideas will welcome its publication."

"David's research forces historians to reopen a very wide field of questions. And that is not a small accomplishment."

"This is a much needed book, and it sheds light on the obscure history of the Utraquists during the Protestant Reformation."

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