Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Who do you say that you are?

This here's a question for my Renaissance peeps (and scholars of religion and lit or religious history more generally):

How common is the term "Protestant," when applied to the people we now call Protestants, by the people we now call Protestants?

My sense has been that "Christian" (or something similarly broad and/or vague, like "our church") is usually preferred, and that "Protestant" is more often used by Catholic polemicists than by actual Protestants--but that's just my sense, and although there's been a lot of scholarship challenging "Anglican" and "Puritan" as meaningful descriptive labels, I can't remember reading anything similar about "Protestant."

A preliminary EEBO search reveals that there are actually quite a few positive or neutral usages of the word, even in the sixteenth century. But since it's hard to search for the terms people use if they're NOT using "Protestant," that still doesn't give me a sense of its relative frequency or popularity.

Anyone have any sources or data points--either scholarly or Early Modern--to throw my way?


Z said...

I think it's pretty common. Foxe, for instance, uses it fairly frequently and generally matter-of-factly (though there is an explanation of the term at one point--search for the word in the 1583 text on EEBO; STC 11225).

You might just look through e-texts of some of the most canonical English texts to see if it appears and how often: Foxe, Perkins, Bancroft, etc. That might give some indication. It's a difficult search to do comparatively on EEBO, you're right...

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

It's also important to note how the word is used. Does it refer to the protesting estates in Germany in 1529? Does it include or exclude the Reformed? Sectarians? The OED entry is informative about the variety of usages in the 16th century. I'm away from my library, but you might look at Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Reformation, for references; MacCulloch notes that because of the initial denotation of "Protestant," he will refer to the early Protestants as "evangelicals."

flacius1551 said...

In 16th c. German sources written by evangelicals to about 1580 (my research is on Lutheran self-understandings till then), the word "Protestant" is used only rarely by evangelicals, and then only in the context of discussions that have to do with the Reichstag. In that case it would refer only to protesting estates, which included members who were not Lutheran (e.g., Zwinglian imperial cities). It did not include the Reformed, who are not at issue until the 1540s or 1550s. It does not include radicals of any kind.

Flavia said...

Thanks, guys. And yes, Z: I'd noticed that Foxe uses it a number of times (although not, interestingly, in the earliest editions), and your advice to check out the the most canonical "Protestant" texts is well considered; presumably that would indicate widespread usage, or at least cultural acceptance.

And I ought to have clarified that I'm most interested in English usages of the word, from about 1580 through the Civil War (though I'm also interested in any changes prior to or after that), when applied to other Englishmen/women. But I ought to know my Reformation history better than I do, so thanks for the earlier citations/context.

From working slowly through EEBO from about 1560, it does seem that the earlier usages are at least as frequently about foreign Protestants (not just in Germany) as about domestic ones. And sometimes it only appears in the formulation "papists and protestants"--as a collective term, and to specifically distinguish them from Catholics.

Anonymous said...

From my own work on the 1530s and '40s in France, Catholics referred to *all* Protestants as "Lutherans," even when they were clearly Calvinist. The Calvinists tended to refer to themselves as Christians, or occasionally, as Reformed.

anumma said...

I'm a little late to the party, but:

As a religious studies guy who teaches mostly evangelical Protestants, I use the word "Protestant" quite often, and not only to distinguish between them and the Roman Catholic church. "Protestants" is what they are.

But yes, many of them do use the word "Christian" in the same sense: it's a synonym for "Protestant," and distinguishes them from the RC church. (Eastern Orthodox isn't even on the radar screen, since they aren't in our classroom seats.)