Schilling, Heinz: Confessional Europe

Catholic confessionalization, though on a different theological basis, also promoted a thoroughgoing change in traditional gender relations, though here, too, the findings are contradictory. On the one hand, “Catholicism nurtured a peculiarly female style of devotion” and developed a whole cosmos “of female saints,” while, on the other, this “holiness could be attained only by divesting oneself of the sexual, feminine ‘bodiliness'” (74) In the area of advanced female education, Catholicism seems to have promoted, both in theory and practice, more univocally than Protestantism did, “the intellectual equality of women and their capacity for and right to learning.” (75) In the Catholic regions of central Europe, confessionalization displaced the old cosmos of saints, “which had been chiefly ordered by the relationship of lord and subject and by the communal life of a largely closed rural order,” in favor of a cosmos of saints “keyed to the model of man, wife, and child.” The “patriarchial order of the peasant mentality” was replaced by an early modern mentality oriented to the Holy Family, in the center of which stood Mary. In the background Joseph, “in whom the male functions of rule over wife, child, household, and form were reduced to exclusively protective ones.” This change introduced” a brief phase of matriarchally influenced norms” and “a new concept of the family.”(76) Jesuit anthropology and pastoral principles, too, promoted changes in gender relations, namely, “a new concept of the family -marked by heightening of the sacrament of marriage, a division of responsibilities between the spouses, and a lessening of the father’s despotic power- was emerging. The patriarchal family and the “Holy Family” were not the same.” (77) Here we find, therefore, a tendency to embourgeoisement and interiority, just as in confessional Protestantism.

These characteristic trends of the confessional age did not spread unchecked. After the mid-seventeenth century a change came over Catholic female education, as “the elan of the founders was shattered, and the discrepancy between male and female education began to grow again.” The same thing happened to “the matriarchal model of the family” and the active participation of women in “the priesthood of all believers.” (78) These changes show that in the history of gender relations, as in other areas, the nineteenth-century “barriers” to women were not direct products of the Reformation and confessionalization, but rather the results of later retreats from the modernizing impulses they unleashed.

The Confessional Cultures

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