Of Church Orders and Postmodernism

The Convent of Wesel, the Construction of the Dutch Reformed Church Order and the History and Nature of History


  • Philip Benedict




Self-avowedly influenced by the postmodernist critique of nineteenth-century ‘positivism’, Jesse Spohnholz's ambitious and multiple prize-winning 2017 The Convent of Wesel: The Event that Never was and the Invention of Tradition speaks at once to the political and institutional history of the Reformed churches of the Netherlands and northwestern Germany, to the role of archiving practices in shaping historical understanding, and to the nature of historical study. This review offers both an extended synopsis and a critique of the book. While recognizing its considerable achievement, it questions its framing of its findings about the Reformation era with reference to the ‘confessionalization’ debate, its reliance on a prefabricated narrative about archives as instruments of power and marginalization, and its mischaracterizations of post-Rankean historical practice and theory. Implications of the book’s findings for further research into the politics and personalities of the Reformation in the Low Countries are also suggested.


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Author Biography

Philip Benedict

Philip Benedict is Professor Emeritus at the Institute for Reformation History of the University of Geneva. Among his many publications are two that examine the institutional history of Europe’s Reformed churches: Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed: A Social History of Calvinism (2002) and (edited with Nicolas Fornerod), L’organisation et l’action des Églises réformées de France (1557-1563). Synodes provinciaux et autres documents (2012). His most recent book, Season of Conspiracy: Calvin, the French Reformed Churches, and Protestant Plotting in the Reign of Francis II (1559-1560), appeared from the American Philosophical Society Press in 2020. E-mail: Philip.Benedict@unige.ch.




How to Cite

Benedict, P. (2021). Of Church Orders and Postmodernism: The Convent of Wesel, the Construction of the Dutch Reformed Church Order and the History and Nature of History. BMGN - Low Countries Historical Review, 136(1), 59–77. https://doi.org/10.18352/bmgn-lchr.10897