The Bible as Norma Normans

At all times, holy texts have been used as reference points for the legitimation and justification of political decisions. They served as an overarching framework from which particular political and social decisions of, for instance, early modern societies in Europe derived their claim of perennial validity. One example would be the use of certain biblical passages from both the Old and the New Testament in order to illustrate the character of good governance, to prove the validity of particular forms of political constitution, to sanction the use of violence and so on.
In this project, the reference to biblical passages as an absolute norm – as norma normans – was analyzed on the basis of certain groups of sources, especially collections of sermons, and with a focus on a comparison between different Christian confessions and between different regions.
The project helped to foster our understanding of how sacred texts legitimize fundamental norms and how respective narratives of justification function in society. In this way we were able to arrive at new insights into historical chronology and the genesis of basic rights as fundamental norms of modernity.
Transitional rites in early-modern Christianity – in particular baptismal rites, marriage rites (between members of the different Christian confessions as well as members of Christianity and Judaism or Islam), and the rituals associated with death (consolation rites in the event of death, mourning) – were analyzed as providing a key to understanding interconfessional and interreligious disputes. The basis of the research was provided by the rich sources in the Vatican archives.
Our analysis confirmed that the shared horizon of the controversies analyzed was invariably provided by the scholarly interpretation of the Old Testament and the New Testament. The controversies turned exclusively on the extent to which the Bible could be function and be recognized as norma normans both in theological justification and as regards its practical effects in the world. Based on an examination of the sources, the project was also able to prove that the emergence of basic rights had already begun in Europe during the sixteenth century. The elaboration of a comprehensive database provided the foundation for a systematic analysis of the argumentative use of certain Biblical passages (New and Old Testaments) in the conflicts to be analyzed, e.g. over the rights of women and of religious minorities. This made it possible to examine the extent to which “conscience” or practical tolerance exercised a norm-setting competence and how such a competence was established and changed or expanded over time.

The most important events of this project:

International Workshop: Grundrechte und Religion im Europa der Frühen Neuzeit, Cluster of Excellence “The Formation of Normative Orders“, Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, November 27–28, 2014.

International Workshop: Religious contacts and conflicts in the rites of passage: European and extra-European perspectives on the Early Modern period, Cluster of Excellence "The Formation of Normative Orders", Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main (supported also by the Max-Weber-Stiftung), July 3–4, 2014.


The most important publications of this project:

Schorn-Schütte, Luise: Die Reformation. Vorgeschichte, Verlauf, Wirkung, C.H.Beck: München, 7th revised edition, 2017.

Schorn-Schütte, Luise: Gottes Wort und Menschenherrschaft. Politisch-theologische Sprachen im Europa der Frühen Neuzeit, C.H.Beck: München 2015.

Cristellon, Cecilia and Luise Schorn-Schütte (eds.): Die Bibel als norma normans – zur Entstehung und Praxis von Grundrechten im Europa der Frühen Neuzeit, Göttingen: V&R unipress, forthcoming.

Cristellon, Cecilia: “Due fedi in un corpo. Matrimoni misti fra delicta carnis, scandalo, seduzione e sacramento nell’Europa di età moderna“, in: Quaderni storici 1/2014 (April), special issue “Corpi familiari”, guest editors: M. Lanzinger, D. Rizzo, pp. 41–70. 

Cristellon, Cecilia and Silvana Seidel Menchi: “Religious Life”, in:  E. Dursteler (ed.): A Companion to Venetian History, 1400–1797, Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2014, pp. 379–419, (Cristellon, pp. 379–398).


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