Schilling, Heinz: Confessional Europe

Whereas they collaborated with the state to impede crimes, the churches’ most important discipline, operated through special institutions aimed to curb sin. (60) Even the policing of sin by the free or underground churches, such as the Puritans in England or the Calvinists in Catholic France and the Lower Rhineland, which had no alliance with the state, strengthened the social discipline of the state, because churches and state inculcated the same norms. The churches disciplinary work was essential to modernization, because the pre-absolutist state, lacking adequate instruments of supervision and manipulation of its own, depended on religious sanctions to internalize the new values.

Long, nearly complete series of presbyterial minutes reveal the Calvinist “police of sin” that influenced European society for a very long time. It promoted a rational, sober, disciplined type behavior, which more or less spread over early modern Europe and became a prerequisite for the successful transformation of premodern Europe into the modern bourgeois society of the industrial age. The Calvinist congregations worked tirelessly against deviations from the fixed principles of belief and worldview; against neglect of religious duties to oppose contentiousness, force, and dishonesty; against excess, unconstrained luxury, excessive gambling, drinking, dancing, and pleasure-seeking; against sexual indiscipline, fornication, and adultery; and against drunkenness, uncleanliness, sloth, and all the other deviations, great and small, from the modernized code of Christian moral norms that characterized the sixteenth-century confessionalization. In all of this, the congregation showed that they were not only agents of a closed Calvinist system of belief and values, but also and above all promoters of emotional control, a rational and modern lifestyle, endurance and self-discipline, and a sober sense of responsibility for one’s own life and that of one’s own neighbor within the marriage, the family, the congregation, and the society as a whole. (61)

The much less numerous studies of the “police of sin” by the Anglican, Lutheran, and Catholic churches reveal a similar, if more muted, picture. Like the Calvinist consistories and synods, the worldwide Jesuit network contributed to the formation of modern habits of thought and behavior among the princes, the nobles, and the new strata of civil servants and teachers in the towns though hardly in the countryside. The Jesuits, indeed, introduced “enough novelties concerning the family and the social order, and about how to live one’s religion, to disturb the guardians of tradition.” They and their counterparts in the other confessions taught a programmatic combination of religious inwardness and a morally responsible way of life in and for the Christian community and for the family, the church, and the urban public sphere. Each of the confessional churches in its own way represented a “modern Christianity,” and all three “merged, so to speak, with the origins of the bourgeois ethos in Europe,”(62)

The connection between confessionalization and the bourgeois mentality was enhanced by the attacks on pre-confessional popular religion, which made headway in the cities, though not in the land. The purification of faith and piety from magic, the didactic (and thus rational) character of religion, and the anchoring of religion in inner conviction rather than in an externalized ritual came all easier in the cities, because these very tendencies had already been promoted by the late medieval reform movements, such as the devotio moderna, and by the elective affinity between early Reformation piety, on the one hand, and the early modern bourgeois spirit, on the other.

Finally, confessionalization’s effects on the premodern European model of gender relations can hardly be overestimated. From the new anthropology taught by both Protestantism and Catholicism, the agents of confessionalization derived new notions of gender relations, of the roles that men and women played in marriage, family, household, and the public sphere, and rooted them deeply in European societies. The new understanding of marriage and the formalization of weddings contained far-reaching consequences for gender relations. This is clearest in Protestantism, because “with the new, biblically based understanding, marriage became the central social order governing the two sexes.” (63) The relations between man and wife, and between parents and children, were now framed in a system of Protestant norms different from the old esteem for chastity and celibacy as worthy ideals of human self-realization. Catholic confessionalization, however, also contained new social consequences for the family. Its model was not the pastoral family, as in Protestantism, but the Holy Family, dominated by Mary with Joseph standing in the background.(64)

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