Schilling, Heinz: Confessional Europe
This kind of structural-functional approach to religion and church offers us perspectives and possibilities for comparison and evaluation unmatched by either materialist or idealist approaches. It demonstrates, for example, how the history of confessional Europe meant in the long run a tremendous revolutionary shift. More importantly, it rejects the long dominant view of post-Reformation religious history as a mater of competition and mutual exclusion and emphasizes the confessions’ structural and functional similarities rather than on the differences among them. The confessional hypothesis focuses both on the cultural, intellectual, social, and political functions of religion and confession within the early modern social order and on the confessions’ roles as spurs and barriers to the emergence of modernity. These are two sides of the historical paradigm we call “confessionalization”. It holds that the late sixteenth-century emergence of confessions was one of the key events in early modernization, because the doctrinal and organizational strengthening of the churches became a powerful prelude to political and social reorganization in the following era. The confessional churches lay at the center of this process. Although similar tendencies appeared among the sects, especially the Anabaptists, these lacked any positive connection to state-building and, hence, any larger social consequences.
The goal of our study of “confessional Europe” is thus a comprehensive analysis of society. Rather than deny the spiritual and theological differences that have for centuries occupied the historians, it asserts a new set of questions about motors of and barriers to the social changes that enabled Europe in time to exchange its “traditional” or “feudal” social system for a modern one based on citizenship and a market economy. The confessional paradigm thus pushes the discussion about transition into the early modern era, fixing on the decades around 1600 as the “warm-up time of modernity” (Vorsattelzeit der Moderne).(3)
This concept of the social role of religion lends historical depth to the concept of modernization, which, originally oriented to the present age alone, is now indispensable for the early modern era as well. Its deployment liberates our historical vision from the dominance of purely secular social and economic relations, however appropriate the latter may be for the recent era, and allows us to conceive of the early modern social order in terms of a sociology of religion that includes demographic, political, and economic, along with the social and social-psychological, connections. Religious change, conceived as social change, thus serves as a heuristic indicator for the secularizing forces within the entire process.
Two further characteristics of the era around 1600 suggest the special importance of “confessional Europe’s” religion and churches. The first is the simultaneous secularizing and re-sacralizing tendencies produced by the Reformation itself. (4) Second, there is the simultaneity of confessionalization and the formation of the early modern state, which strove to construct a unified, disciplined society of subjects, either in an absolutist sense or in that of a society based on estates (Standestaat). The primary axis of social change thus ran right through the zone in which the concerns of church and state overlapped, where the secularizing forces, important as they were, were neither the exclusive nor even the primary driving elements.(5) The decisive force, on the contrary, was resacralization.(6) To sum up, the state sum up, the state became more sacral before it became more secular.
Three main categories are needed to describe “confessional Europe” from a bird’s eye view: 1) the confessional churches themselves and their forms of religious mentality and practice; 2) state and society and their culture under the influence of confessionalism; and 3) the pre -or non-confessional forces, which, though in the background, later acquired decisive influence on the emergence of modern Europe. What follows is organized in these three categories.