Schilling, Heinz: Confessional Europe

The alliance of Church with State

The church’s institutional and social reliance on the early modern state was particularly pronounced in the Protestant states of Scandinavia, England. and Switzerland (especially in Zurich), and in the territorial and urban churches in the Empire -the Calvinist no less than the Lutheran ones. In these lands the clergy acquired a quasi-official status under the ruler as “chief bishop [summus episcopus]” or “supreme head of the church”, and the ecclesiastical bureaucracy grew as a branch of its civil counterpart. Calvinism, which, unlike the Zwinglian form of Reformed Christianity, recognized in principle the autonomy of the church vis-a-vis the state, formed in practice no exception. Indeed, the Calvinist Presbyteries and consistories were normally closely coordinated to the political elite, even where they were not recruited,as they partly were in Geneva, from the magistrates themselves. (22) Calvinism achieved a de facto autonomy in ecclesiastical and congregational matters only where it was not the dominant confession, and where it had to build its church independently from, or even against, the temporal authority. This was true of the French Huguenots, of the congregations which formed underground or “under the cross” on the Lower Rhine, and of the English Puritans. If an ecclesiastical or congregational autonomy free from state influence developed anywhere, and if there was any path from the presbyterian-synodal church of the early modern era toward modern democracy, then it was in such minority churches, whose members were excluded from all state offices. Further, if capitalism truly had socio-religious roots, they may be sought in this Calvinism of the Diaspora, whose adherents were freed from the conservative and feudal restraints of government to devote themselves to religion and business. Bolstered by the triad of congregation, family, and economy, in this milieu developed a socio-religious type –in origin not only Calvinist but also sectarian– which became something like an early modern bourgeoisie. (23)

The post-Tridentine Catholic lands preserved at least in principle the church’s medieval organization. The need, however, for Catholicism to enter alliances with the temporal rulers –either to retake lost areas or to guard its own lands against Protestant heresy– greatly enhanced the state’s influence in ecclesiastical matters, already traceable in the late Middle Ages. Normally this influence was regulated by treaties with the Roman Curia (called “concordats”) or with the diocesan bishops and metropolitans, though the instruments of lay supervision varied from place to place. In the German lands, for example, central administrations developed special organs for church affairs, comparable to the Protestant consistories. Bavaria had its Spiritual Council (Geistlicher Rat ) of theologically educated clergymen and legally trained laymen, who were appointed by the duke to supervise the subjects’ religious life, monasteries, parish clergy, and collegiate churches. In Spain a supreme council for ecclesiastical and religious affairs, namely, the Inquisition (Consejo de la Suprema y General Inquisition ) was part of the royal right to nominate bishops, which the concordat of Bologna had confirmed in 1516.(24)

Overlapping Authorities

The states’ activities also intensified in what had lain largely in the church’s hands during the Middle Ages, when the state had lacked the capacity to manage them. The most important such matters were marriage and the family, education, poor relief, and social welfare. Except for Catholic marriage, which remained a sacrament and thus did not fall under the “mixed matters”, in both Protestant and Catholic lands such matters came under the jurisdiction of both authorities. And if in the long run the state’s competence grew at the church’s expense, the norm was their coordination, despite the frequent differences of opinion and even conflicts between them.

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