Schilling, Heinz: Confessional Europe

The same point is suggested by the recent rediscovery of the linguistic power of Catholic confessionalism, while, at least in its Anglican and Lutheran forms, Protestantism cannot be said to have lacked possibilities for the plastic arts. (81) Even the new, Tridentine conception of the communion of saints, which long perpetuated itself in the high and the popular cultures of Catholic Europe by means of ceiling frescoes in palaces and churches, the giving of Christian names, celebrations of patron saint’s days, pilgrimages, and millions of holy pictures -even this image rested on a rational psychology and perspective. It, too, contributed importantly to the modernizing transformation of cultures and habits of thought. (82)



4. Beyond Confessionalization

ONE CANNOT SPEAK of “confessional Europe” without devoting attention to the forces that opposed confessionalization and to the passing of confessionalism. The non-and-anti-confessional forces also possessed modernizing potential, though it became visible later, during the Enlightenment. (83) Just as important were the anti-confessional tendencies within confessionalism itself, the quasi-dialectical process of which set loose forces that endured long into the post-confessional era. The state, too, continued to draw internal strength from its alliance with confessionalism long after the end of confessional era. Eventually, when the state had become strong enough to function effectively without the aid of church or religion, it could reject the maxim that “religion is the bond of society” and embrace a plurality of churches and worldviews. By this time, too, the acceptance of a multi-confessional Europe of the great powers obtained in international relations as well.

The Limits

Despite the dynamic and pervasive character of the confessionalizing process, some important social and political sectors resisted its claims to totality. Chief among them was the law, especially Roman but partly also canon law, which the Protestants still looked to in some matters, such as consanguinity as an impediment to marriage. In Germany it was true as well of Imperial law. (84) Indeed, in a Europe divided by confession, it was the jurists, educated in a common European jurisprudence, who retained the indispensable social and political relations between the confessional blocks. The most notable such group were the politiques in France, who held that public law was neutral and superior to the confessions. There were also the teachers of the law of nature and of nations, such as Hugo Grotius, who worked to dampen the apparently irreconcilable religious struggle by keeping it within legal bonds and by setting as an ultimate goal reconciliation under a new regime of peace. Some essential sectors of daily life, such as the laws of marriage and inheritance, which generally remained valid over the confessional boundaries, also resisted confessionalization. The European noble houses also retained their ties across confessional lines, and so did the world of diplomacy.

Nor, despite the educated classes’ role in confessionalization, was European culture life ever entirely fractured, as the histories of literature, art, and humanism clearly show. (85) Despite the confessionalization of schools and universities, important sectors of scientific discourse also resisted the split, especially the natural sciences and medicine, which were moving toward a modern sort of empiricism. Another such field was political thought, where Jean Bodin (1530-96) and Justus Lipsius (1547-1606) were not identified with any confession, because they marked out paths toward social and political modernization open to Catholic and Protestants alike.

When, after the mid-seventeenth century, the dominant syndrome of confessionalization came to the fore. They included secular processes, such as the rise of legal individualism or the modern category of “self-interestedness,” (86) and the religiously rooted forces of modernization arising from the radical reformation arising from the radical reformation and the sects to which it gave birth. Such forces had been able to exert no general social effects during the preceding era, because they “had been willing to push social change forward beyond the point possible at the beginning of the early modern period.” Only when “the structural necessity of a coalition between the early modern state and confessionalism had vanished” could the modernization potential of Protestant dissent gain general social influence. (87) This happened earliest in the Dutch Republic and in England, where the Glorious Revolution sealed the compromise between the Anglican confessional church and the Protestant dissenters. In other European lands this tusk remained to be accomplished by the Enlightenment, which radically secularized the spiritual and institutional foundations of European society, and the ensuing political revolutions, which swept away the pre-modern type of church-state alliance.

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