Schilling, Heinz: Confessional Europe

The religious shaping of the people by the church and religion was not effected through discipline alone, but also by other means, notably by print: hymnals, prayer books, and books of private devotion; homilies, lives of the saints, and edifying dramas; manuals of married life and Christian behavior; and funeral sermons –to name only the principal genres. There were new forms of devotion, too, as the “Spiritual Exercises” of the Jesuits, as well as the many aspects of the plastic arts, which, though most highly developed in Catholicism, were not absent from Protestantism. Finally, it must be noted that in all four of the major confessions, at the turn of the sixteenth to the seventeenth century emerged a new “simple” piety of the heart, which over the course of time would push confessionalism itself aside.(39)

The Protestant clergies differed decisively in origin, self-image, and life-style from their medieval counterparts. This was as true in Anglicanism and the Lutheran lands, which retained a clerical hierarchy from parish pastor to superintendent to General Superintendent, president (Praeses), or bishop, as it was in Calvinism, where in principle an equality of clergy obtained. When Protestantism abandoned the claim to sacral power, it also surrendered the clergy’s special status in society, for Protestant clergymen were citizens and subjects, just like their parishioners.(40) The right of Protestant clergy to marry led to a de facto obligation to marry. Most of them did marry and often had large families, and they assumed a quite different position in civil society than the Catholic priests did. Their work had become a profession, which presupposed a formal training and a set of professional norms, the theoretical grounding of which lay in the Protestant clergy’s dedication to preaching the Word. The Protestant clergyman attained his office through examinations and ordination, and in the state churches, he thereby acquired a quasi-official status that bound him to the ruler’s policies and made him a representative of the state in the village or the town. This status and the required education promoted, as Rosemary O’Day has shown for the Anglican clergy, the development of an esprit de corps, which tended to create an unbridgeable distance between the clergy and their congregations, especially rural ones. Its counterpart was the social closeness to possessors of the same or similar academic training, which in the German territories meant the bourgeois lawyers and officials.

In the Protestant churches the lay officials formed another sector of what may be called the “society of churchmen” (Kirchendiener-Gesellschaft ). This term applies strictly only to Calvinism, where, in addition to the preachers, elders, deacons, those who staffed the colleges, academies, and other schools were officials of the church.(41) Laymen nonetheless also participated in ecclesiastical affairs in the Lutheran and Anglican churches, though on a theologically and institutionally more limited basis, for here they possessed only special competence over the financial maintenance of church building and poor relief, in the case of the Lutheran Kastenherren or Kirchenprovisoren , and in addition service in the visitations and episcopal courts, in that of the Anglican elders.

In Catholicism, too, confessionalization also meant forming a new kind of clergy. Since the council of Trent explicitly reaffirmed the traditional sacerdotal basis of ecclesiastical office, marked by the requirement of celibacy, the post-Tridentine Catholic priestly clergy appears quite different from the Protestant magisterial clergy. A social-historical perspective, however,reduces the difference greatly, providing that comparisons are correctly made: the Protestant pastors corresponded to the regular orders in pastoral work and to the secular parish priests, but not to the prelates and the bishops. The latter remained aristocrats until the end of the Old Regime, especially in the Empire. Otherwise, the differences between Protestant and Catholic clergies seem much reduced, both because the former’ s level of professionalization was often very low in practice, leaving the village clergy fixed in premodern social conditions, and because the Catholic clergy, both regulars and seculars, were prepared for their callings in the universities and seminaries, uniting the modern qualification of education to the traditional sacral powers. Indeed, it has been shown that even in the Roman Curia, often viewed as the guardian of a traditional, “feudal” pattern of recruiment, a type of professionalization emerged in the sixteenth century in the figure of the career prelate.(42) Just as their social and political integration into the state by no means deprived the Protestant clergy of the possibility of critical distance and even opposition,(43) so the responsibility of the Catholic priests to their bishops and the pope did not prevent them from acting in reality as agents of the temporal authority.

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