Schilling, Heinz: Confessional Europe

One result of this sacralization was the rise of a quasi-numinous separation of the prince from his subjects, which, together with other tendencies -especially the advance of Roman law and Jean Bodin’s doctrine of sovereignty- led to an escalation of and a qualitatively modernizing change in the image and impact of state power. This happened not through the instrumentalization of religion but via a characteristically early modern piety toward rulers, of which neither the sincerity nor the political utility is open to doubt.(48)

The long-term political and constitutional consequences of this sacralization depended on its legal and social context. Germany and England represent the two extremes in Protestant Europe. In the German lands, sacralization and the legal principle of “whose the rule, his the religion [cuius regio, eius religio]” gave rise since the late 1500s to the union of throne and altar that fostered autocracy in nineteenth-century Prussia and elsewhere. In England, by contrast, where the king possessed legislative power only in cooperation with Parliament, the ruler’s supremacy over the church was restricted in practice by Parliament and the common law. By the mid-seventeenth century, after all attempts to alter this situation had failed, the law of the land (lex terrae) triumphed over the law of the church (lex ecclesiae), and thereafter the king was bound by law and the constitution in church matters as much as in civil ones. Instead of converting the papal heritage to the service of an English absolutist monarchy, it was accommodated to a constitutional monarchy.(49)

In other lands, too, confessionalization long influenced political theory and the political ideas. The older literature saw here only stark contrasts: an ethos of obedience and a strengthening of the absolutist and autocratic structures in Lutheranism and Catholicism; an ethos of freedom and constitutional and democratic impulses in the Reformed religion, especially in Calvinism. (50) This simplistic dichotomy has given way to a quite different picture of the political impact of the early modern confessions: besides confessionalization’s integrating, stabilizing effects, it could also unite with oppositional parliamentary forces in territorial states or the burghers in the cities. Conflicts, for example, between the state and the dominant church, on the one side, and a confessional minority, on the other, expanded and made more secure the political space for anti-government forces. This was true to the same degree of Lutheran, Calvinist, and Catholic minorities.

The same picture of interchangeability emerges concerning political theory and political culture. The alleged resistance theory of western European Calvinism grew in fact from roots in the tracks of Lutheran theologians who supported the city of Magleburg against the Emperor Charles V. These Lutheran anti-monarchists had their exact counterparts in the Catholic monarchomachs, and the authoritarian reformation of princes, often held to be typical Lutheran, took its purest form in the so-called “Second Reformation” under the banner of Calvinism. Indeed, as the basically undemocratic structures of Calvin’s own theology have become more clearly defined, so has the realization that as Robert M. Kingdon has written, Geneva became a “political model” because of urban political traditions and a specific historical constellation of forces. The ideology of freedom and natural rights first came to the fore not in Calvin’s Geneva but in the American and French revolutions, independent of all confessional associations, although “traces of ideas of natural rights” may be found in all confessions, though not always to the same degree. (51)

Agents of the State

Confessionalization aided early modern state-building directly or indirectly through clerical administrative organization and recruitment that supplemented and strengthened the still quite incomplete civil administration. In Protestant lands and cities one can speak of a second, ecclesiastical branch of the state’s bureaucracy, while in the Catholic lands the state’s institutions normally employed the church’s counterparts indirectly or as supports only, when the interests of the two authorities coincided. These relationships were especially important for the state’s penetration of the villages and small towns, which had hitherto largely eluded its authority.

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