Schilling, Heinz: Confessional Europe

The anxiety of the times took various forms in different areas of Europe: in Spain the autos da fe organized by the Inquisition; in southern Italy the anti-Spanish insurrection inspired by the Joachite millenarianism of Tomaso Campanella (1568-1639); in France the massacres of the Religious Wars; in England and in the Netherlands the Calvinist polemics against the Spanish Antichrist; in Switzerland the socio-confessional conflicts in Appenzell, the Valais, Graubunden, and the Valtellina; in Sweden the bitter struggles of the Lutheran nobles and the bishops against the Crown’s Calvinizing and Catholicizing tendencies; in Bohemia the deeply anti-Catholic insurrection of the estates against the Habsburgs; and finally in revolts of German-speaking burglers in Poland against spread of Calvinism. The international public discourse of the separate confessions placed each of these disturbances -but particularly the rise of the Jesuits since the 1540s, St. Bartolomew’s Day (1577), and the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588)- in a Europe-wide context. (14). These events tended to push anxiety to extreme heights in Central Europe, where the ideological and political fronts coincided. (15) After all the political and legal tools of compromise failed and as the wars dragged on, the physical struggle for daily life overcame anxieties about the future.

 

 

2. Confessionalization of the Churches

CONFESSIONALIZATION modernized, above all, the churches themselves. Where the Reformation succeeded, the period after 1550 witnessed institutional reconstruction of doctrine and liturgy in a great burst of church ordinances, confessional statements, and confessional alliances. This happened above all in central Europe, where each of the dozens of Protestant territorial states and each of the free cities issued a more or less independent church ordinance, and where the boundaries between Lutheranism and Calvinism remained to be staked out.(16) In the Netherlands, France, and Scotland, by contrast, reformation and confessionalization largely coincided. The new Protestant gains,whether in western or in east central and southeastern Europe (Poland, Bohemia, Transylvania, Hungary, and Austria) mostly benefited Calvinism.

The movement did not achieve total reform of state and society, not even in the northern Netherlands, where Calvinism acquired the status of a “public Church” (publieken kerke), to which all magistrates had to belong, although it remained a minority in a multi-confessional and relatively tolerant society. (17) In England, although Queen Elisabeth I tried to forestall confessionalization, both because it contradicted her temperament and because she wished to avoid giving greater influence to the clergy, Puritan confessionalism developed as an oppositional movement within the state church. (18) This outcome proved all the more disruptive, because it developed uninterruptedly for several generations and reached a resolution only in the 1640s –fifty-to-a-hundred years later than in Germany, France, and the Netherlands.

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