Schilling, Heinz: Confessional Europe

In such settings important functions of supervision and discipline devolved upon the clergy, the quasi-official pastors of the Protestant state churches and also the Catholic priests, whose church, while formally independent and universal, had entered manifold ties and agreements with the state. The clergy’s maintenance, for example, of baptismal, marriage and death registers, which began contemporaneously with confessionalization, supplied the basis of the state’s policy on population, a connection particularly notable in what has been called the “peopling policy [Peuplierungspolitik]” of the German territorial states.

The clergy also formed a web of communication between the state’s bureaucratic center and the periphery, where they announced the state’s decrees to village communities and urban neighborhoods. The web functioned in both directions, for the clergy also relayed from “below” to “above” information that proved indispensable to accurate and effective management by early modern civil administrations. In a certain sense the clergy -Protestant more than Catholic- formed the first, still incomplete examples of the “commissar,” the delegated officials who accomplished so much for the early state despite local society’s capacity for absorbing them. (52)

The framing and enforcement of innumerable laws for the protection and regulation of religious and ecclesiastical life enormously expanded the hitherto weakly developed business of state. The state also acquired new jurisdictions, notably over marriage and the family, the schools and education, and poor relief and social welfare, which in pre-Reformation times had been mainly the church’s concern. Once the churches had reclaimed at least partial responsibility for these areas, the symbiosis of state and church, so typical of confessional Europe, permitted the rulers to appropriate primary jurisdiction over them -with the churches blessing. Ecclesiastical property was treated in a similar manner, and in various ways the properties were turned to the advantage of the state’s finances while these were still quite weak and imperfectly developed.

Confession and Identity

Although research on confessionalization’s concrete effects on the rise of national identities in Europe, the formation of the international system, and European expansion abroad lies in its infancy, the basic outlines can be described. Confessionalization not only promoted early modern state-building, it also influenced the formation of modern European nations. Religion and politics were closely intertwined and remained so until the nineteenth and even the twentieth century , most clearly, perhaps in Catholic Spain, Italy and Ireland, and Protestant England and Scandinavia. (53) More complex histories determined that multi-confessional identities should emerge in the Dutch Republic, Germany, and Switzerland, where national formation was blocked by both the existence of the Empire and its multiplicity of territorial states. These countries possessed not two confessional identities, but three, which hindered their nineteenth-century attempts to catch up in nation-building and, in Germany at least, became a mortgage of quasi-metaphysical quality on the modern political culture. The excess of confessional and ideological feeling, it has been said, has shaped German culture from the confessional era down to the present day and made Germany a “belated nation.” (54) In France, too, the relationship between confessional and political identity was complicated. Although since the days of Henry IV and even more strongly those of Louis XIV, Catholicism held its power over the French identity. again and again this identification was trumped by the political rivalry with Spain and the House of Habsburg, which drove France perennially into the arms of the Protestant powers. Cardinal Richelieu, scrupulous as he was in religious matters, found this configuration a heavy political and spiritual burden, which he would have gladly abandoned -had circumstances permitted- for an international policy in tune with France’s Catholic identity. (55)

Confessional Alignments in Europe

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