The Reformation period and state power

William Cavanaugh’s provocative book The Myth of Religious Violence has a chapter entirely on the Wars of Religion, a period that is critical to the myth that he is trying to debunk: that religion inherently leads to violence, while the modern state saved us by privatizing it. He lists many cases during the wars of the 1500s and 1600s where fighting did not follow confessional lines but instead featured Protestants fighting Protestants and Catholics fighting Catholics. He argues that the modern state was instead a key cause of the religious wars because of the effort of rulers to subject local and regional power centers to their rule. These tensions, in addition to doctrinal issues, fueled the resistance of nobles to the French kings and Holy Roman Emperors. Cavanaugh doesn’t mean to say that people never kill for religious reasons, but rather that the common narrative that necessarily connects religion and violence is not well-founded in fact. He argues that in early modern Europe, religion and politics were not two separable things.

Here are some lecture notes for my class tomorrow on Cavanaugh’s explanation of the confessionalization thesis and the “sacralization” of the monarchy and state:

  • Confessionalization thesis: mostly relates to Germany
    • Reformation allowed for states to be constructed upon confessional lines: Calvinism in Prussia, Catholicism in Bavaria
    • Church-state fusion as bureaucracies promote uniformity in faith and practice resulting in good subjects
      • Standard confessions and liturgy, morality “enforced by frequent visitations of local churches by officials of church and state” (170)
      • In Protestant countries rulers could claim to be heads of the church (functional leadership of the church in Catholic countries)
    • Displacement of traditional religious practices and local institutions by official state forms (like “Baroque Catholicism” vs. “peasant communalism of mountain villages” in Salzburg)
    • Example from Holy Roman Empire (171) – this part edited on 11/14/15
      • Osnabrück region: 1624 visit by bishop’s general vicar: 73 parish priests: 19-20 Lutheran, 13-14 Catholic, rest unclear
      • As the Thirty Years’ War (1618 to 1648) raged, the alternating control of many parts of the Empire by Protestant and Catholic armies meant that the the official religion also alternated. This is turn meant that locals became less concerned about who belonged to which church and those that leaned Protestant or Catholic sometimes worshipped together.
  • One can even argue that
    • the Edict of Nantes fits here, as it was meant to be only a temporary measure and provide for the eventual conversion of the Huguenots
    • and the English Civil War does too, as the Prayer Book controversy in Scotland was an attempt to standardize religion, and the English king was the head of the church
  • “Sacralization” of the monarchy and state
    • 1400s: Charles VIII entered Rouen to the titles of “Lamb of God, saviour, head of the mystical body of France, guardian of the book with seven seals, fountain of life-giving grace to a dry people, and deified bringer of peace” (174)
    • 1500s: French king as a priestly and even godlike figure, leading of course to Louis XIV
    • Both French kings and Elizabeth I of England borrowed symbols from the feast of Corpus Christi; other kings and emperors used divine symbols
    • France: use of language about church to describe country: body, caritas, martyrdom
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