A Reformation Debate: Karlstadt, Emser, and Eck on Sacred Images

Translated by Bryan D. Mangrum and Giuseppe Scavizzi - TT05

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From its earliest history the Church harboured a sometimes intense hostility to religious imagery. Controversy over images could erupt into violence as it did during the long period of iconoclasm in Byzantium. The issue again surfaced violently in the first half of the sixteenth century when several prominent Reformers — including Zwingli and Calvin — vigorously attacked the traditional use of images. The debate was launched by a short tract, On the Removal of Images, written in 1522 by Andreas Karlstadt. In strident tones, Karlstadt formulated the basic arguments against images which were to echo down through the century in many Protestant polemics: images were prohibited by Scripture, they fostered superstition, and they bound simple folk to a pointless faith in the mediatory powers of the saints and the Holy Virgin. In the same year, 1522, two of the most prominent Catholic theologians sprang to the defence of tradition. Hieronymus Emser, in a treatise entitled That One Should Not Remove Images of Saints from the Churches, responded directly, point by point, to Karlstadt. Johann Eck, in On Not Removing Images of Christ and the Saints, responded to the Protestant challenge by reviewing more broadly the history of Catholic usage. For Emser and Eck, images provided a useful means of instruction, they were helpful in promoting devotion, and they were, above all, sanctified by traditions which could be traced back to Christ and Apostolic times. These three treatises (which are translated here for the first time into English) established the terms of reference for one of the most important debates of the Reformation, one that was accompanied in many parts of Europe and England by the violent destruction of images.

Second revised edition. Translated with an introduction and notes by Bryan D. Mangrum and Giuseppe Scavizzi.

Giuseppe Scavizzi taught art history at Scarborough College, University of Toronto, from which he is now retired. He is currently working on a comprehensive history of the sixteenth-century controversy between Protestants and Catholics on the use of religious art.

Bryan D. Mangrum is now retired from the Department of Art and Art History at McMaster University, where he taught from 1964. At present he is engaged in preparing a translation of the Rationale Divinorum Officiorum by William Durandus

125 pp.
Out of Print
ISBN: 978-0-9697512-7-4 softcover
Published: 2010


The Sixteenth Century Journal, 23:3 (Autumn 1992), pp. 579-580. Reviewed by Josef Schmidt.

The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 45:2 (April 1994), pp. 370-371. Reviewed by R. W. Scribner.

Religious Studies Review, 19:3 (July 1993), p. 268.




Select Bibliography

Andreas Karlstadt, "On the Removal of Images"

Hieronymus Emser, "That One Should not Remove Images of the Saints from the Churches nor Dishonour Them, and that They are not Forbidden in Scripture"

Joahnnes Eck, "On not Removing Images of Christ and the Saints"