Schilling, Heinz: Confessional Europe

Such similarities aside, the pressure to marry within one’s own confession altered traditional regional or social strategies concerning marriage and replaced or supplemented them by a confessional criterion. Given the confessional and territorial fragmentation of Central Europe, here confessional boundaries determined marriage connections more strongly than did territorial boundaries. Although confessionally “mixed marriages” were concluded in all social strata, they entailed many individual and social problems, which in the confessionally mixed zones troubled European society long after the confessional era ended. (33)

Discipline and Supervision

The construction of the ability to manage and supervise in the interest of inculcating Christian norms of belief, thought and behavior was bound to the churches’ engagement in education, marital affairs, and social welfare.(34) They employed quite similar instruments, notably catechisms,(35) which were by no means, as it often assumed, a purely Protestant phenomenon.(36) Catholicism’s rich variety of instruments for supervising religion and morals included more or less regular visitations and synods, the ecclesiastical courts of the deaneries, doceses, provinces, the Roman Curia, the Inquisition (in Italy and Spain), and the papal nuntiatures. The religious orders also worked to discipline both their own members and others, an enterprise in which the Jesuits, with their network that spanned Europe and its colonies, were especially active as teachers, preachers, and princely confessors.(37) In Lutheranism, except for excommunication and quasi-bureaucratic supervision by visitors, superintendents, and consistories, specialized institutions of religious discipline emerged only in a few places. Here the task of discipline fell chiefly on the sermons and pastoral care, together with the state’s laws and supervision. A similar situation emerged in the Zurich model of Swiss Reformed religion, where moral courts (Chorgerichte) and synods (chiefly to discipline the clergy) were dominated by the civil magistrates. The Anglican Church maintained a distinct institutional continuity with the Middle Ages in that formally the bishops and archbishops were responsible for visitations and the ecclesiastical courts. Royal policy promoted the centralization, nationalization, and control of this system, in the day-to-day management of which the elders –laymen annually elected by the parish– played an important role. The much more strongly congregational ideal of the Puritans imitated Geneva, where Calvin’s model provided the soundest theological and institutional basis for a comprehensive influencing of society in the spirit of early modern confessionalism and its norms of thought and behavior. The most important organ of management was the consistory (consistoire), whose members were coopted elders and pastors, and which normally convened each week to review the church’s administrative work and to exercise discipline. Calvin had designated discipline in his Institutes (based on Matt. 18:15-18) as the central pillar of Confessio Gallica and the Confessio Belgica, even declared it to be, together with preaching and administration of the sacraments, a third “mark of the[true] church [nota ecclesiae]”.

Driven by their concern for confessionally correct belief and behavior, the churches’ leaders effected deep changes in the churches and in religion. Jean Delumeau has rightly portrayed the changes as an early modern wave of “Christianization”, for as the reformed religiosities of the established churches spread across the territorial states, they decisively undermined or weakened the old, pre-confessional forms of popular religiosity, especially the animistic and magical rites connected to events of nature, to the annual cycle of sowing and reaping, to the rites and festivals connected with individual and familial life-cycles –birth, maturity, marriage, and death– and to the healing of humans and animals. In cooperation with the early modern state, the confessional churches –each in its own way– set about purifying, standardizing, and unifying religious life. They varied nonetheless markedly in their capacity for integrating popular religiosity. Tridentine Catholicism and often Lutheranism, too, could supply the peasants’ needs for the visual representation of the holy by means of the decoration of churches and the maintenance of statues, altars, and church bells. Calvinism displayed this integrative power only rarely and in very limited measure, because its drive for rationality and purity forbade any compromise with the sensual forms of popular religion.(38)

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