Schilling, Heinz: Confessional Europe

Driven by their concern for confessionally correct belief and behavior, the churches’ leaders effected deep changes in the churches and in religion. Jean Delumeau has rightly portrayed the changes as an early modern wave of “Christianization”, for as the reformed religiosities of the established churches spread across the territorial states, they decisively undermined or weakened the old, pre-confessional forms of popular religiosity, especially the animistic and magical rites connected to events of nature, to the annual cycle of sowing and reaping, to the rites and festivals connected with individual and familial life-cycles –birth, maturity, marriage, and death– and to the healing of humans and animals. In cooperation with the early modern state, the confessional churches –each in its own way– set about purifying, standardizing, and unifying religious life. They varied nonetheless markedly in their capacity for integrating popular religiosity. Tridentine Catholicism and often Lutheranism, too, could supply the peasants’ needs for the visual representation of the holy by means of the decoration of churches and the maintenance of statues, altars, and church bells. Calvinism displayed this integrative power only rarely and in very limited measure, because its drive for rationality and purity forbade any compromise with the sensual forms of popular religion.(38)

The religious shaping of the people by the church and religion was not effected through discipline alone, but also by other means, notably by print: hymnals, prayer books, and books of private devotion; homilies, lives of the saints, and edifying dramas; manuals of married life and Christian behavior; and funeral sermons –to name only the principal genres. There were new forms of devotion, too, as the “Spiritual Exercises” of the Jesuits, as well as the many aspects of the plastic arts, which, though most highly developed in Catholicism, were not absent from Protestantism. Finally, it must be noted that in all four of the major confessions, at the turn of the sixteenth to the seventeenth century emerged a new “simple” piety of the heart, which over the course of time would push confessionalism itself aside.(39)

The Protestant clergies differed decisively in origin, self-image, and life-style from their medieval counterparts. This was as true in Anglicanism and the Lutheran lands, which retained a clerical hierarchy from parish pastor to superintendent to General Superintendent, president (Praeses), or bishop, as it was in Calvinism, where in principle an equality of clergy obtained. When Protestantism abandoned the claim to sacral power, it also surrendered the clergy’s special status in society, for Protestant clergymen were citizens and subjects, just like their parishioners.(40) The right of Protestant clergy to marry led to a de facto obligation to marry. Most of them did marry and often had large families, and they assumed a quite different position in civil society than the Catholic priests did. Their work had become a profession, which presupposed a formal training and a set of professional norms, the theoretical grounding of which lay in the Protestant clergy’s dedication to preaching the Word. The Protestant clergyman attained his office through examinations and ordination, and in the state churches, he thereby acquired a quasi-official status that bound him to the ruler’s policies and made him a representative of the state in the village or the town. This status and the required education promoted, as Rosemary O’Day has shown for the Anglican clergy, the development of an esprit de corps, which tended to create an unbridgeable distance between the clergy and their congregations, especially rural ones. Its counterpart was the social closeness to possessors of the same or similar academic training, which in the German territories meant the bourgeois lawyers and officials.

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