The Age of the Baroque and Enlightenment 1600-1800: Religion

Arts and Humanities Through the Eras. Editor: Edward I Bleiberg, et al. Volume 5. Detroit: Gale, 2005.

The State Church in Early-Modern Europe


By far the most important development in the history of European Christianity during the early modern age was the emergence of the state church. A series of measures pioneered in France, England, and Spain during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries had anticipated its development. For much of the Middle Ages the Papacy in Rome had considered local churches as provinces in a Christian Empire under its control. The rising power of kings at the end of the period, though, brought Rome increasingly into conflict with the growing power of the secular state, and in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, national governments had begun to usurp authority the Pope had once claimed to exercise. In England, the Statute of Provisors (1351) attempted to limit the pope’s authority to make appointments to English church offices, while the Statute of Praemunire passed two years later tried to prohibit the king’s subjects from appealing their cases in the Roman church’s courts by insisting that all such cases had to be submitted to the crown for approval before being referred to the papal judicial system. In France, the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges (1438) and the Concordat of Bologna (1516) limited the pope’s powers over the church in that country in ways that were similar, but even more thorough than in England. But it was in Spain where a truly national church began to develop at the end of the fifteenth century. As a result of their marriage, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille came to govern over a large part of the Iberian Peninsula, a European region with a wealthy and powerful church establishment. By 1485, the couple was already secure enough in their control of the Spanish church to found their own version of the Inquisition and they charged the office with eradicating the secret practice of Judaism and Islam among the conversos, those they had forced to convert to Christianity. This Spanish Inquisition, as it later came to be known over time, was staffed with members of the clergy, but it answered directly to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and not to the pope at Rome. It became in the sixteenth century a powerful weapon in the fight against heresy, and helps, in part, to explain the relatively limited appeal that Protestantism had in the country.

Protestant Influences

During the sixteenth century the reforms advocated by Protestant leaders came alternately to support and discourage the increasing trend toward state control of religious institutions. In his Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (1520) Martin Luther recommended that the German princes take up the cause of reforming the churches within their own territory, since he judged the contemporary clergy too entrenched and reactionary to oversee the job of eradicating abuses and corruption. In the first generations of the Protestant Reformation, Luther’s appeal to state authority proved to be one of the attractive features of the developing Lutheran church, as German princes and kings in Scandinavia accepted the movement’s evangelical teachings, in part, because of the greater degree of control that it afforded over their clergy and the church’s wealth. In 1527, for example, Philip of Hesse became the first German prince outside Saxony to introduce a Lutheran-styled reform in his lands. Philip set a standard that was often repeated in Protestant countries during the years that followed. He dissolved the monasteries and convents within his territory and sold off their possessions, reaping the benefits of the sale for his own government. His example was soon to be imitated in Scandinavia, and most decidedly in England where the Dissolution of the Monasteries during 1535 and 1536 resulted in a huge windfall for Henry VIII’s treasury. Henry’s move against the monasteries was merely the last in a series of measures resulting from his desire to secure a divorce from Catherine of Aragon and the legacy of that famous dispute was to establish his effective control over almost every aspect of the church’s life in England. But if Protestant kings and princes often freely interfered and tinkered with the church, the attitude of Reformation theologians was not always as accepting of state control as Luther’s had been. In Swiss Geneva, the French religious reformer John Calvin advocated for a very different pattern of church-state relations. Calvin insisted that the church’s ministers and officials meeting in synods had the right to define church practices and teachings, and that the state was responsible for enforcing the decrees and decisions of religious leaders. Calvin’s ideas served as the basis for a great international movement, today known as Calvinism, which spread throughout Europe in the century after 1550. But it was only in Scotland where the movement came to fashion the national Presbyterian church that Calvinism became accepted as the basis for a state church. Elsewhere Calvinists succeeded only on a much smaller scale: their influence dominated in Holland, a country that was a loose confederation of cities and rural provinces; in the Swiss cantons, which were also ruled by urban governments; and in a few German principalities. Even in these small territories, princes often significantly altered Calvin’s notions concerning the need for a Consistory, a committee of churchmen and lay elders, to regulate all issues having to do with church and state. The type of church control implemented in these small territories thus frequently came to mirror more that of Philip of Hesse than of the original Genevan model. In England and France, Calvinist disciples agitated for the establishment of their positions in England and France, but rulers in those countries long resisted their pleas. Thus while Calvinism was to remain a significant minority movement—the most significant minority movement in seventeenth-century Europe—its ideas about political authority and the relationship between church and state always proved to be stumbling blocks to its establishment as a national religion.

Catholic Influences

It seems at first a paradox that the greatest impetus to the development of the state church came, not from within Protestantism, but from forces at work within the Roman Catholic church, an institution that had long resisted attempts to encroach upon its prerogatives. During the sixteenth century the rise of competing Protestant churches throughout Northern Europe had been a significant blow to the Roman church’s prestige and authority. As a result the very multiplication of new churches throughout Europe meant that those who supported reform from inside the Catholic church were forced to rely on state power as never before to ensure that the task of internal reform was carried forward. In the years between 1545 and 1563 members of the church’s hierarchy had met at Trent on the border of northern Italy to consider issues of church reform. Prompted by the attacks of Protestants the prescriptions they formulated at this Council of Trent resisted Protestant innovations but at the same time attempted to answer Protestant charges by supporting the elimination of abuses and corruption in the church and by fostering a new discipline among the clergy. At the council’s conclusion, the church possessed a series of decrees that were a definitive rejoinder to Protestant teaching, but the church’s officialdom also faced a dilemma. In order for the decrees to be established in the various countries of Europe that remained faithful to Rome, the Council’s prescriptions had to be adopted and promulgated by kings and princes. Thus in the wake of the Council of Trent, Rome was forced to rely as never before on Europe’s remaining Catholic princes, who came to promulgate the decrees and who also supported the establishment of Trent’s program through rich financial subsidies. In this way the very complexity of the sixteenth-century religious situation helped to breed a new enhanced state control over the entire apparatus of the church’s administrative and spiritual bureaucracy. In the years that followed Trent, the Catholic church was, in effect, to become ever more a department of state within those Western European kingdoms that retained their allegiance to the pope.

Character of the State Church

By 1600, the legacy of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation and the ambitions of kings and princes meant that the development of the state church was well advanced in every major European state. These new institutions were officially sanctioned and publicly supported, but in most cases they retained the parish structure that had flourished in the medieval church. A parish was a geographical unit with boundaries, and every individual who lived within those boundaries was expected to worship within the parish’s church. In the Roman church and the Church of England (often referred to merely as the Anglican church), parish priests administered the church and celebrated the sacraments. These priests were often called “curates,” because they practiced the “cure of souls.” In larger parishes, a curate might also have a vicar or a vice curate who assisted him. Catholic and Anglican priests were customarily addressed with the title “Father,” while in Lutheran kingdoms and territories ministers served the congregation, rather than priests. The term “minister” had its origins in the reforms of sixteenth-century Protestant leaders like Martin Luther, who insisted that a special category of clergy was unnecessary to intercede between humankind and God. In Lutheran churches ministers were not considered a special legal caste, governed by their own laws and privileges. Instead the same laws that bound everyone in the state were also binding on Protestant ministers, although a great deal of prestige was still attached to being a member of the clergy and oftentimes the distinctions between a Lutheran minister and a Catholic or Anglican priest were minimal. Lutheran ministers were addressed as “Pastor” (Pfarrer in German). By contrast, Calvinist churches did not retain a parochial structure, but instead divided the faithful into congregations according to the place where they worshipped and not according to where people lived. Ministers or pastors were in charge of Calvinist congregations. To men and women of the time, the most visible difference between all the Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic church revolved around the issue of clerical celibacy. All Protestant churches allowed their clergy to marry, while Roman priests were expected to renounce all sexual activity. While these requirements were an ancient feature of Latin Christianity, priestly celibacy had often been lightly observed in many places in Europe throughout the Middle Ages. Many priests had kept concubines, and had merely paid annual fines to their bishops for breaking the church’s laws. As a result of the reforms of the Council of Trent, clerical celibacy was becoming more strictly enforced in seventeenth-century Europe, although even then there were some regions in which concubinage (the keeping of mistresses) was common. By 1700, observance of clerical celibacy had grown to be the norm in Catholic lands, and concubinage had become very rare, a mark of the success of the program of the Catholic Reformation.

Enforcing Morality

State churches served as the eyes and ears of the royal government. Priests and ministers kept records of births and deaths, as well as immigration into and emigration out of the communities under their supervision. It was among their responsibilities to note down the names of all individuals who did not appear at church services on Sunday morning. They also investigated and reported any deviant social or cultural activity. Priests and ministers passed on this information to state authorities, who sometimes, as in witchcraft investigations, interrogated entire villages based upon the information they received from the clergy. A key innovation of the new state churches that flourished in Europe at the time was the increased use of the Visitation, a type of inspection that had been more rarely practiced by bishops in the Middle Ages. The Visitation first became an element of state policy during the early years of the Lutheran Reformation in Saxony and Hesse, the two earliest states to convert their church establishments to Lutheran teaching. To assess the level of religious knowledge among their peoples, the Saxon and Hessian Visitors were charged with examining villagers and ministers. To do so, they were armed with a standard questionnaire with which they interrogated those in the countryside. While clerical officials conducted the visitations, the reports that these forays in the countryside generated were given to princes and state officials, who formulated plans and responses to the generally low level of religious discipline and knowledge that these Visitations often revealed. Weekly catechism for the young was usually the most common prescription that arose from the Visitation and this practice of conducting schooling sessions in church doctrine came to be adopted, not only in Lutheran states, but in Catholic and Calvinist ones as well. In the Duchy of Bavaria, a large and powerful state within the Holy Roman Empire, these initiatives gave birth already in the 1570s to an institution known as the Clerical Council, a permanent body of the state that met regularly for more than 200 years in the Duchy’s capital of Munich before being abolished. The Clerical Council regularly received reports about those who held dangerous religious opinions, about priests who were ineffective and poorly trained, and about parishes in which the level of religious knowledge seemed to be low. They responded by disciplining, reassigning, or removing ineffective priests and by requiring that efforts at indoctrinating the laity be redoubled in particular parishes. Eventually, they designed an ingenuous system in which priests gave out certificates to those who made their confessions, and then, each year lay people were responsible for presenting these tickets to state officials when they paid their taxes. The Bavarian Clerical Council was one of the earliest state offices to appear in Northern Europe that was charged with inspecting religion at the local level in ways that were similar to the Inquisition in Spain and Italy.

Allegiance to the State

The state churches that flourished in seventeenth-century Europe also played a major role in fostering new wellsprings of affection for national governments. At the local level, the minister or priest often served as the “king’s man,” a spokesman for the government. In the days before the development of radio, television, newspapers, or the Internet, it was consequently assumed that one of the duties of the clergy was to communicate to their parishioners news from the outside world as well as the king’s proclamations and edicts. Patriotism is an anachronistic term when applied to the early-modern era. To the extent to which loyalty existed, it usually involved attachment to a ruler or a community, not a land or state. Early modern priests and ministers still can be credited, however, with building in the communities they served a nascent sense of patriotism for the state through the sermons they gave and the devotional activities they organized. Thousands of sermons survive from the period in which priests and ministers intoned the necessity of obedience to the reigning prince as a Christian virtue. In a more positive vein, the religious ideas of the period celebrated the benevolent, but effective king as “the father” of the national household. Just as an effective head of a house bred respect for his authority by chiding and chastening his recalcitrant children, so, too, was it the responsibility of the prince to discipline and supervise the activities of his subjects. Thus in this way, religious notions of authority tended ever more to sanction and buttress the rising power of kings and princes in the early-modern world.

The Role of Print and Education

In the early-modern state church the practice of religious rituals also came to be more firmly fixed than previously. The seventeenth century was the great age of what the historian John Bossy has labeled “typographical tyranny.” During this century state churches first gained the power to insist that congregations strictly observe the liturgy, the body of rites prescribed for public worship, as set in type in books of liturgical order such as the Roman Catholic missal, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, and the Presbyterian Book of Common Order. In every state, on a given Sunday, every congregation across the land was quite literally on the same page in terms of the devotions it was performing. While the subjection of religious worship to this kind of formalism assaults modern sensibilities, the new typographical tyranny had its positive side: it was a boon to the spread of literacy. In order to make sure that members of congregations could read what was on the page, churches became committed to teaching members to read, if not necessarily to write. Universal public education systems did not exist in Europe until the nineteenth century. But even before this time, what schooling that did flourish did so largely under the supervision of churchmen. Typically, the priest or minister, or, in large churches, his assistant, would hold school for a few hours each day for local youth. The education in these schools was quite rudimentary. Its primary goal was to equip students with sufficient skill to read simple devotional works and most importantly to master their catechism, a manual that summarized the beliefs of a given creed. Only the brightest and usually the wealthiest students went on to grammar schools, and the “colleges” or secondary schools that were similar in many respects to modern American high schools. These schools were rarely maintained by the state church, but were “private” institutions funded by fees and maintained by churchmen who had no public responsibilities. In Catholicism, these secondary schools were often the preserve of the Jesuits, the most influential of the many religious orders that emerged from the Catholic Reformation. In Protestant lands many of the schools that first appeared during the Middle Ages to train clerics survived the Reformation to see new life as the training ground for lay people. This was the case with the English public schools. These institutions had originally been founded in the later Middle Ages under the auspices of the church and had been called “public” because the education occurred outside the homes of the nobility and gentry who sent their sons there. These “public schools” had long trained clergy for careers in the church, but in the seventeenth century institutions like Eton, Harrow, and Rugby became the training ground for more and more members of the elite anxious to participate in government.

The State Church and Competition

The priests and ministers in charge of state churches did a good deal of what today would be recognized as the state’s work. In return they acquired an enormous amount of cultural power and influence. While churches became the eyes, the ears, and the voice of government, the state church’s clergy regularly appealed to and encouraged their governments to beat back forces of religious competition. The state clergy made sure, in other words, that the government penalized those who, for whatever reason, chose not to attend the state church. Minority or “dissenting” churches existed in many parts of Europe, but usually these churches’ members were granted only limited rights to worship, and these awards of limited religious toleration usually restricted dissenters’ civil rights and fostered either subtle or overt patterns of religious persecution. The state clergy often vigorously lobbied for such injunctions, and they tried to protect their own religion’s favored position against attempts to grant religious freedom to dissenters. Adherents of outlawed Christian movements, such as Anabaptists (those who rejected the validity of infant baptism, and thus practiced re-baptism as an adult as a necessary condition for participating in the church) were almost never allowed even a limited right to worship. Almost everywhere, Anabaptism was a crime punishable by death.

Problems of Established Religions

While a tool of state domination and control, the established church in early-modern Europe satisfied the devotional and spiritual needs of the majority of Christians. Over time, however, as Europe’s society and economy grew more complex and variegated, these institutions proved incapable of accommodating the increasingly diverse religious opinions that multiplied in society. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many parts of Europe were undergoing rapid urbanization and a transformation to a capitalist economy that would eventually spell the death knell for the old feudal order. In these cities commerce and merchant industries fostered new and increasingly divergent religious landscapes. On the one hand the new commercial economy often bred a dour and austere sense of discipline in many of the new “men of commerce,” as Dutch traders, French artisans, or English industrialists came to evidence an almost “monkish” devotion to their pursuit of worldly wealth. Certainly, their seriousness did not preclude religious belief; in fact, it sent many in these groups in search of new forms of devotion that were more personally relevant in the context of their rapidly changing lives. For others, the new commercial economy, with the possibilities that it opened up for high standards of consumption and leisure time made the traditional ideas of both Protestantism and Catholicism more and more irrelevant. Thus as the seventeenth century drew to a close, the state churches of Europe appeared to be increasingly assaulted from two directions. On the one hand, many felt that their religious and ritualistic formalism was inadequate and they searched for new religious movements that offered a more personal and internal spirituality. From the opposing direction, Europe’s state-sanctioned religious establishments came as well to seem increasingly irrelevant to those who were less concerned with “storing up treasures in Heaven” than they were with enjoying them in the here and now. Among those who persisted as devout believers, the demand arose for a more vital and enthusiastic religious experience, a demand that was to give rise as a persistent chorus. And at the same time non-believers chafed to be free of the obligations of church attendance, catechism, and the other, often minimal requirements that the state church imposed upon its subjects. This dynamic—born of an increasingly pluralistic society in which religious beliefs were expressed in terms of personal relevance—was to make the state church seem more and more an outmoded relic of the European past as the eighteenth century progressed.

The Thirty Years’ War and its Aftermath

The Age of Religious Wars

As the development of the state church came to affect the lives of more and more Europeans in the seventeenth century, religious issues continued at the same time to dominate events in the political arena. In the century following 1550, Europe was convulsed by a series of religious wars in which the lingering issues the Protestant and Catholic Reformations had raised prompted debate, civil strife, and military conflict. The Age of Religious Wars, the term that is often used to describe this period, is in many ways a misnomer. It implies that over a number of years Western European princes sustained organized military action to resolve the religious issues of the era. While military engagements caused a portion of the bloodletting in Europe in this century, the breakdown of public order—evidenced in the sporadic but deadly outbreak of religious violence in towns and villages—frequently proved to be far deadlier than military conflicts. Similarly, troop movements, rather than battles, killed far more peasants than soldiers, since as armies moved through the countryside they commandeered grain and other foodstuffs from local inhabitants, often leaving villages to starve in their wake. Armies, too, brought disease with them, touching off outbreaks of plague and other epidemics that proved to be more devastating than the casualties inflicted in battles. In the years between 1550 and 1600, these clashes were largely centered in France and the Netherlands and took on much of the character of civil wars. But the last and greatest of the religious wars, the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) occurred in Central Europe, and its primary battleground was the loose confederation of states known as the Holy Roman Empire. Although it began as a localized dispute, the Thirty Years’ War came soon to assume the character of a great international conflict, eventually involving France, Spain, the Scandinavian powers—indeed almost every major European state. Notable for its brutality, the length of its sieges, and the widespread depopulation and devastation that it wreaked on large portions of Central Europe, the war was a dismal climax to the great controversies that the Protestant and Catholic Reformations had bred in Europe since the early sixteenth century. The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) that drew the fighting to a close offered little new in the way of solutions to religious problems, but instead merely reiterated sixteenth-century precedents that upheld the right of a ruler to define the religion of his state. If any good thus came out of this massive bloodletting—the deadliest conflict in European history until the total wars of the twentieth century—it was by and large to discredit the arena of battle as a suitable forum for resolving religious differences. In the years that followed 1648, Europeans were to continue to fight one another, but it was increasingly to be territorial disputes, trade, and colonialism that inspired international wars, rather than religious issues.

Causes of the War

The causes of the Thirty Years’ War were complex and lay in the long stalemate that had developed between Protestant and Catholic forces in the Holy Roman Empire following the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. At that time both Lutherans and Catholics had drawn a truce that upheld the legality of Lutheran teaching in the empire, so long as evangelical reforms were established through the actions of a prince or town council. The formula upon which the Peace of Augsburg had been based was cujus regio, euius religio, meaning roughly “He who rules, his religion.” Like many of the truces drawn in the religious conflicts of the sixteenth century, no one ever really expected the Peace of Augsburg’s solution to the Reformation crisis to stand. Like the Edict of Nantes (1598), which granted limited toleration to French Protestants some four decades later, it was thought of as a truce, a cessation in the conflict that Catholics and Protestants anxiously desired so that they might recover from the bloodletting of the previous generation. Most princes fully expected that at some time in the future a single religion would be re-established in the empire, but they were assured throughout much of the later sixteenth century that that moment was not about to come soon. By 1600 the majority of German princes and towns were Lutheran, while the emperor—always a member of the Austrian Habsburg dynasty—was Catholic. The election of a Catholic emperor was, in fact, assured by the very contours of the empire’s constitution. Only seven electors within the German parliament, or Diet, possessed a say in electing a new emperor, and at this time four of the seven were Catholic. Thus religious issues in Germany had come to a stalemate: the emperor and the majority of the German electors were Catholic, but in the German territories and cities Lutheranism dominated. Both sides recognized that any attempt to establish their position as the “official” state religion was doomed to failure because of the very nature of the political landscape. Although this situation prevailed until the early seventeenth century, the religious complexion of the German lands was already beginning to change in the later sixteenth century as some states adopted Calvinist religious reforms. According to the terms of the Peace of Augsburg, Calvinism was an unrecognized, and therefore illegal, religion. Despite its prohibition, though, a number of powerful states adopted Calvinist church ordinances, including the Palatinate, Hesse, Nassau, and Anhalt. The Palatinate, in particular, was a wealthy state in the German Southwest that was in frequent contact with Calvinists elsewhere in Europe, particularly with the Huguenots in France. The Palatinate’s ruler was also one of the Diet’s seven electors, and in 1613, he was joined in his decision to practice Calvinism by the elector of Brandenburg-Prussia, a ruler of one of the largest territories in the German northeast. Thus two of the three Protestant electors within the imperial Diet were now Calvinist, a situation that rankled the empire’s Lutherans, and which raised Catholic concerns as well.

Resurgence of Catholicism

In the generation following the conclusion of the Council of Trent in 1563, Catholicism had begun as well to revive throughout Germany. The center for much of this renewal was the large and powerful Duchy of Bavaria in the southeast, where Duke Albrecht V (1550-1579) pioneered a state-directed pattern of Catholic reform that was to be copied in other Catholic territories throughout the empire. Princes like Albrecht were concerned to transform their states into model Catholic territories, but they also hoped to work a widespread re-catholicization of the empire itself. Their efforts laid the foundation for a renewed spirit in the Catholic leadership and inspired some state leaders to convert to Catholicism, touching off a renewal of spirit in the Catholic cause that was well underway by the second decade of the seventeenth century. By this time, the spokesman for the revival was the Austrian figure, Archduke Ferdinand. In 1617, Ferdinand secured his election as king of Bohemia, then, as now, a region with a Czech rather than German population. In his new office Ferdinand set about reforming the religion of his new subjects, outlawing the religious toleration that had recently been assured in the state and laying the foundation for the region’s re-catholicization. His efforts soon inspired resistance, and only several months after coming to power, his nobles revolted, capturing Ferdinand’s two most powerful Catholic ministers in Hradcany Castle at Prague and throwing them out the window. The men survived their fall, but this “defenestration of Prague,” which occurred on 23 May 1618, touched off the entire complex series of events that soon made war inevitable. Emboldened by their show of resistance, Bohemia’s nobles deposed their Catholic king and in his place elected the Calvinist, Elector Frederick III of the Palatinate. Thus their measures called into question the entire balance of power in the empire, since Bohemia was a territory that possessed an electoral vote in the German Diet, and if Frederick’s claim to the throne had been upheld, Protestants would have possessed a majority of the seven votes. Instead the following year when the ailing Emperor Mathias died, the Protestant electors universally agreed that Ferdinand should be elected to replace him. But rather than exercising generosity to his Protestant compatriots, the new emperor raised an army that marched on Prague, defeating its Protestant nobles at the Battle of White Mountain just outside the city in 1620. With this victory Habsburg control over the territory was assured, thus touching off an ambitious program to reestablish Catholicism in Bohemia in the years that followed.

Danish, Swedish, and International Phases

Although Ferdinand’s victory in Bohemia might have ended the conflict, his buoying of the Catholic cause inspired the Lutheran King Christian IV of Denmark to enter the wars in 1625 in order to rally Protestant forces in the northern part of the empire. A series of stunning Danish defeats, though, caused the country to withdraw from Germany in 1629. In the months that followed, Denmark’s archrival Sweden was drawn into the conflict as well, to serve as supporter of the Protestant cause. The entry of Sweden, a major European military power at the time, soon widened the conflict. Poland, Spain, the United Dutch Provinces, and eventually France came to participate in the wars, with Catholic France fighting on the side of Protestant forces in order to oppose its rival Spain. The worst years of the conflict occurred in the mid-1630s, when heavy fighting, famine, disease, and the pillaging of armies wreaked a heavy toll on large parts of Germany. In the German Southwest, the large and wealthy Lutheran territory of Württemberg saw its population decline by more than 75 percent. In many places the mortality rate soared to a level more than 30 percent higher than the birth rate. Travelers who visited the region at the time, like the English physician William Harvey who would later go on to discover the circulation of the blood, remarked that Germany was a country very much without a population. While attempts to halt the destruction continued throughout the later 1630s, the war was to grind on for another decade until a general peace conference was convened in the northern German town of Münster. The treaty that resulted from these deliberations, the Peace of Westphalia, accomplished little when compared against the massive destruction that had been wrought. The principle of cujus regio, euius religio was upheld, meaning that German princes were free to define the religion practiced in their territory. Calvinism, previously left out of the settlement of the Peace of Augsburg of 1555 was now recognized as a legal religion, and other developments that had long been established facts, like the independence of the Dutch Republic or of the Swiss Cantons, finally received legal recognition. The costs that the war had exacted in deaths, in human misery, and in a general cheapening of life throughout much of Central Europe scarcely justified such slight achievements. Yet on the positive side Continental Europeans were never again to stage such an enormous battle over religious issues. The specter of the Thirty Years’ War, in which initial religious zeal was quickly turned to baldly political ends, meant that the impulses that had fed religious conflicts had by 1648 largely come to be spent.

The English Civil Wars

Rising Puritan Dissatisfaction

Before the specter of religious conflict completely disappeared from Europe altogether, one final conflict, the English Civil Wars, was to answer questions that had long raged over the course that the state church should take in that island country. Since the later years of the reign of Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603) English Puritans had been agitating for change in the rituals and doctrines of the Church of England. The Reformation settlement in England had been crafted, not by theological directives formulated by a Reformation leader like Martin Luther or John Calvin, but in response to political realities. Henry VIII had been pulled into the realm of Protestant states only gradually as a result of the circumstances arising from his famous divorce from Catherine of Aragon, but other than dissolving England’s monasteries and taking a few tentative steps toward reforming the church establishment, Henry had left much of England’s religion untouched. Under the reign of his son Edward VI (r. 1547-1552), the first English Book of Common Prayer had come into circulation, but it was carefully fashioned as a translation of the Sarum rite, a version of the Mass that had originated in England’s Salisbury Cathedral and which had been in wide circulation throughout the country in the later Middle Ages. Although he was personally Protestant in his own religious ideas and he did invite a number of continental reformers to come to England—most notably the Strasbourg reformer Martin Bucer (1491-1551)—few definitive steps were taken to foster Reformation teachings throughout England until the year of Edward’s death. At that time a new austere and definitively Protestant Book of Common Prayer was printed, but the king’s premature demise prevented it from being circulated throughout the country. By contrast, Edward’s successor, Mary Tudor (r. 1552-1558) tried valiantly to restore Catholicism in the island, putting to death more than 300 Protestants, and beginning tentative steps to re-establish English monasteries. But her early death, too, prevented these measures from being carried through. And while her half-sister Elizabeth I was a Protestant, she promised at the outset of her reign to make “no windows into men’s souls.” The church she thus fashioned continued to be a halfway house between outright Protestantism and traditional medieval practices. In 1559 she issued a new edition of the Book of Common Prayer more traditional in outlook than her brother Edward’s second work, but more Protestant in its teachings than the first edition of 1549. And although she was to persecute some Catholics in the course of her reign, she generally tolerated a broad range of opinion, so long as she did not sense that it was a threat to her authority. The solutions that she crafted worked well for most of her reign, but by the 1580s and 1590s the Puritan movement had gathered increasing strength in Parliament. Puritanism, a theological and devotional movement that aimed to do away with vestiges of the Roman church’s practices, had largely been inspired by the teachings of John Calvin (1509-1564) and the Scottish divine John Knox (1508-1572). The most extreme of English Puritans desired the abolition of the episcopate, and the substitution of a Presbyterian style of church government—something that Elizabeth and her successors steadfastly refused to do. In the Church of England, as elsewhere in Europe, the power of bishops served to buttress and support the power of the state. Both the Tudor and Stuart monarchs realized that to do away with these powerful links between state and church might subject the crown to powerful centrifugal forces it could not control. Not every Puritan, though, supported such radical measures. Others were content with more piecemeal measures to remove “popish” abuses and superstitions from the English prayer book and to curtail the elaborate ritualism of the state church.

James I

Elizabeth resisted such innovations, and although she was largely able to forestall the growing Puritan demands of her later reign, she left the dilemmas that Puritanism raised as a legacy to her successors, James I (r. 1603-1625) and Charles I (r. 1625-1649), neither of whom evidenced the queen’s same skill for managing the English Parliament. A central feature of Elizabeth’s success had been her decision to call Parliament relatively infrequently, and to conduct a royal administration notable for its great economy. Despite these measures she had left the crown heavily indebted at her death, and royal finances continued to worsen during the first decade of James I’s reign. James soon learned, like Elizabeth before him, of the dangers of calling the English Parliament, who regularly required concessions in exchange for new taxes. In the first years of James’s reign he came face-to-face with the religious issues that had also troubled the later years of Elizabeth’s rule. As he made his way from Scotland to London, he was presented with the “Millenary Petition,” supposedly signed by 1,000 English Puritans who desired a purified English church. News of these efforts soon reached the country’s Catholics, a few of whom began to hatch a plan to tunnel under the houses of Parliament in Westminster and blow them up while the king was speaking there. This Gunpowder Plot, planned for November 1605, came to the attention of officials and, when thwarted, did a great deal to destroy the hopes of those who longed for a re-establishment of Catholicism as the state religion of England.

The Situation Worsens

Although James I may have been drawn to some of the theological conclusions of Calvinism, he had regularly battled with Scottish Presbyterians while king of Scotland. That experience continued to condition his reign as king of England. When he called a conference at Hampton Court palace outside London in 1604 to converse with Puritans, he was faced with the demand that he abolish the episcopate in England. His response, “No bishop, No king,” alienated many in the movement. Still James did accede to their request for a new authorized translation of the Bible, the version that has since become known as the King James Version since its issuance in 1611. Yet in the years that followed, James instructed officials in the Church of England to reverse Elizabethan policies toward Dissenters, those who refused to attend Anglican services. Elizabeth had been relatively tolerant of those who refused to attend, but in the following years James’s ecclesiastical establishment levied heavy punishments on those who refused to participate. Puritan dissatisfaction with his regime also grew when in 1618 James made clear his animus against the movement’s custom of “keeping the sabbath.” At that time he issued a proclamation that decided between a group of Puritans and Catholic-sympathizing members of the gentry. James’s declaration made it legal to dance on Sundays, to go about “vaulting and leaping,” to set up “May-poles,” and to drink “Whitsun ales.” James insisted further that the declaration be read from every pulpit in the land, but when the Puritan outcry was too great, he backed off from his plans.

Worsening Fiscal and Political Crises

In the years that followed his initial encounters with the English Parliament, James decided, like Elizabeth before him, that it was better not to call the representative body to meeting. Still he was faced with an ever-increasing shortfall of funds, and during the second decade of his reign, he made up this shortfall through the sale of offices and the awarding of royal monopolies to trade in certain commodities. Elizabeth, too, had practiced such a policy, although her greater popularity had tended to stanch criticisms. James, by contrast, was not a popular figure. At the same time, he continued to uphold the Church of England while prudently promising persecution for Catholics who practiced their religion openly, a popular policy. In the final years of his reign, any goodwill that he had amassed through such policies was spent. In these years criticism mounted because of his tendency to fall prey to young favorites like George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, with whom James apparently nourished a long-term sexual obsession. In 1521, James secretly sent off his son and heir Charles with his favorite Buckingham to Madrid to arrange a marriage with the Spanish Infanta. When the scheme came to light it caused a scandal and had to be abandoned since an alliance with Spain had been particularly unpopular in England since the Spanish Armada of 1588. In that failed offensive Spain had launched an invasion force against the island with the intention of accomplishing its re-conversion to Catholicism, and since that date most in England had turned a wary eye toward Spain. With the Spanish marriage discredited for his son Charles, James considered other possible marriage alliances. But his decision to wed his heir to Henrietta Maria, the sister of Louis XIII of France, was hardly a prudent choice. France, too, was a Catholic country that had long nourished a rivalry with England. Thus the last years of James’s reign came to be particularly uncomfortable, especially when the dire financial situation of his government required the calling of Parliament to set England’s finances aright. He now faced a chorus of criticism, particularly from his Puritan opponents who desired widespread reforms in exchange for new taxes.

Charles I

If James left his son a dangerously unstable situation, Charles I soon offended just about every faction in England. Quarrelsome and high-handed by nature, he came to alienate even his supporters. Early in his reign he dissolved two meetings of Parliament when members insisted that the king’s ministers should be answerable to the body. By 1628 when he called his third meeting, he was forced to sign the Petition of Right, a document that outlawed many of his previous revenue-raising schemes. Chastened by the defiance of Parliament, he resolved not to call the body again, and between 1629 and 1640 he ruled largely without any representative assembly, a decision that forced the king to rely on the sale of offices and other monopolistic practices that had long excited the outrage of Parliamentarians against him and his father James. At the same time, Charles’s religious policies offended the sensibilities of many in England, who feared that his High Church formalism and support of pomp and ritual was a precursor to a restoration of Catholicism in the island. This strain of criticism only worsened, particularly after Charles installed William Laud (1573-1645) in 1633 as archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the church of England’s establishment. Laud soon persecuted members of the Puritan party, including the popular London attorney William Prynne. Prynne, an avid opponent of the theater and a critic of the lax standards of morals evidenced at court, had for several years conducted a pamphlet campaign against the High Church party. Laud had Prynne seized and tried, but when Prynne began a term of imprisonment in 1633, he continued to write from his jail cell, having his works smuggled out of prison to be published and circulated secretly. King Charles and Laud continued to move Prynne about the country, hoping that they would find a spot secluded enough that he would be unable to work his intrigues. But in 1637 as the prisoner continued to defy their orders, they had him seized, his earlobes shorn off and both his cheeks branded with the letters “SL” for “seditious libeller.” Prynne, ever the showman, promoted his marks as “Stigmata Laudis,” meaning literally, “the marks of Laud.” Laud’s other measures did little to quiet fears that a restoration of Catholicism was imminent in England and Scotland. He refused to engage in dialogue with Puritans and openly tried to offend the party. Between 1634 and 1637, the archbishop ordered Visitations of all English and Scottish dioceses, which turned up evidence of widespread Puritan practices. To counteract this threat, Laud insisted that observance of his policies was synonymous with loyalty to the king. Among the particularly despised measures he enacted were a revival of James I’s measures against the “keeping of the Sabbath,” a measure that now excited even more outrage in the 1630s than it had in 1618. Laud’s measures re-installed the force of James I’s proclamation allowing Sunday games and the opening of public houses. These measures were explained to the country in the so-called Book of Sports that King Charles issued in 1633. Laud’s other directives sought to redecorate English churches with costly furnishings; in the past generations many of these churches had been whitewashed as Puritan ideas were in the ascendant. While his measures were popular among some quarters, they were greeted as “godless popery” among the Puritans, who generally were more organized in their opposition to state policies than moderates or the High Church party that supported such initiatives. By 1639, his efforts to establish an Anglican-style worship in Scotland produced the brief, but vicious “Bishop’s War” in that country, a precursor to the great civil conflicts that were soon to come to England.

The Long Parliament

Matters of church and state were to clash in the years after 1640, when Charles I was forced once again to call Parliament in an effort to alleviate his chronic shortage of revenues. The first meeting that the king convened in the spring of the year, however, lasted only three weeks, when negotiations on both sides broke down and the king dismissed them. A few months later, though, Charles’s financial situation had grown even more perilous and he summoned a second Parliament. This body was to become known as the Long Parliament because it continued to sit in some form or other until 1660. It eventually sentenced Archbishop Laud, Charles I, and other royalist supporters to death. In the months that followed its first deliberations, tensions between the Parliament and the king rose, thus necessitating Charles’ departure from London in 1642. He raised an army, but in the capital the Puritan opposition began to exact its vengeance upon Charles’s religious policy. Measures were enacted that did away with the office of the bishop and established a style of Presbyterian church government similar to that in Scotland. Late in 1644, the archbishop of Canterbury was imprisoned on a bill of attainder, a Parliamentary writ, and he was tried, convicted, and executed soon afterward. By this time forces of Parliament and the king were already skirmishing on battlefields in the north and west of England. In 1645, though, the conflict took a new direction when Parliament raised the New Model Army, an exemplary fighting force. In the months that followed, the leadership of the New Model army, particularly Oliver Cromwell, began to exert its influence over the religious situation. The king took up residence in Oxford not far from London, while the New Model Army laid siege to his outpost. Charles escaped for a time, but in 1647, the Scottish forces that controlled the retreat where he was hiding handed him over to Parliament. Yet again he escaped, and continued to lead a number of intrigues against the government. Finally, in August of 1648 the king was recaptured, tried, and on 30 January 1649, he was put to death. Thus the bitter rivalries over religious policies and political power that had characterized much of the reign of both of the Stuart kings seemed to come to an end. Until 1653, England continued to be ruled by the Long Parliament, but increasing disagreements and dissension in that body prepared the way for the rise of the Puritan leader and New Model Army hero Oliver Cromwell, who served as Lord Protectorate of the English Commonwealth until his death in 1658. Social and religious unrest persisted under Cromwell’s government, with ever more diverse groups of dissenters multiplying throughout the country. Some of the most famous groups that multiplied at the time were the Quakers (who recognized the lordship of the Holy Spirit and rejected Christian laws), the Levellers (who advocated the elimination of all elements of rank and social privilege), the Diggers (who supported the abolition of private property), the Ranters (who rejected all forms of religious ritual), and the Fifth Monarchy Men (an apocalyptic group who argued for the abolition of taxes). Most of these groups actively worked against the regime and, coupled with the actions of Puritan fanatics, the increasingly tangled religious and political situation came more and more to discredit the Commonwealth’s rule. In truth it must be admitted the Cromwell showed the wisdom of an enlightened despot in dealing with English society at a very troublesome period. Despite his Puritan religious convictions, Cromwell was a friend to George Fox, founder of the Quakers, and he protected Quakers from outbreaks of sporadic violence. At the same time the tide of Puritan extremism and religious radicalism that rose in the years of the Protectorate, and which began to spiral out of control, meant that his regime eventually came to be painted with the same broad brush of despotism that had once tarnished Charles I. And in the two years following his death in 1658, the vacuum of authority in England meant that even the generals of Cromwell’s New Model Army began to realize that a return to the monarchy was preferable than the contemporary drift of affairs. Thus the way was prepared for the Restoration that occurred in 1660, an event that paved the way for the re-establishment of Anglicanism in England but at the same time did little to resolve the lingering issues of religious dissent in the country.

The Restoration Settlement in England

The King Returns

In 1660, Charles II (r. 1660-1685), son of the beheaded Charles I, was invited to return to England to claim his throne, and as part of the settlement that “restored” the monarchy, the Church of England was again established throughout the country. The legislation that in the Puritan years had established a Presbyterian style of church government was rescinded and English bishops were given back control over their dioceses. As part of the Restoration Settlement, those surviving members of the Long Parliament (1640-1660) were officially dismissed, and in their place a new body that became known as the “Cavalier” Parliament was summoned. Over the next few years it considered many questions about religion. In many of its pronouncements the Cavalier Parliament sought to turn back the clock as much as possible and re-establish the Church of England so that it resembled the church that had existed in the 1630s. Thus in 1662, a revised Book of Common Prayer, similar to that of Elizabeth I’s reign, was reissued and made mandatory throughout England. As a result Puritans were forced to consider whether they could in good conscience remain in the Church of England, and deep splits emerged in the movement between those who accepted the restored prayer book, and those who rejected it. For those who rejected it, they were increasingly isolated into the same ranks of dissenters and sectarian groups that had flourished with such vigor and been so problematic to their movement during the period of Cromwell’s Protectorate. All those who now rejected the national church—whether they were Puritan, Quaker, Baptist, or from any of a number of other dissenting groups—now came to be known as Nonconformists. This designation developed as a result of the “Act of Uniformity” of 1662 that restored the Book of Common Prayer to its hallowed place in the Church of England. Anyone who refused to conform to the requirements of the act—which included swearing allegiance to the monarch and taking communion according to the prayer book’s ritual—was now considered a Nonconformist. In tandem, the stipulations of this measure and the Corporation Act that had preceded it one year earlier deprived Nonconformists of any role in English government, the church, and the universities. This legislation thus had a devastating effect on Nonconformists, as more than 1,900 clergymen refused to take the required oath and to receive communion according to the Anglican rite, and were ejected from their positions.

The Clarendon Code

To make sure that these Nonconformist clergy did not begin to lead churches that would compete with the Church of England, the Cavalier Parliament passed two more statutes. The Conventicle Act (1664) prohibited all Nonconformist religious services, outlawing all religious assemblies of more than five unrelated adults in which the Book of Common Prayer was not followed. Despite these measures Nonconformists continued to practice their religion, but as dissenters they came to be increasingly reliant on their neighbors, who often decided not to report their offenses, or on the tolerance of local authorities that might refuse to uphold the laws. To try to eliminate Nonconformism, Parliament pioneered new measures. In the Five Mile Act of 1665 the body aimed to sever any connection between Puritan preachers and their former congregations. This measure prohibited clergymen who had been removed from a church for nonconformity from preaching anywhere within five miles of that church. And in the Second Conventicle Act of 1670 they adopted a page from the handbook of the medieval Inquisition. They lured Englishmen and women into informing on Nonconformists by promising them a share of the profits that accrued from the confiscation of dissenters’ estates as well as those of anyone who was convicted of aiding them. In sum these measures came to be known collectively as the Clarendon Code, after the Earl of Clarendon, then Charles II’s first minister, who had formulated them.

Charles II’s Opposition

The chief opposition to the religious policies of the Cavalier Parliament came not from the ranks of defeated Nonconformists, but from King Charles II. How deep Charles’ Catholic convictions ran has remained a subject of debate among historians for generations, but he does appear to have been determined to bring about some degree of toleration for Catholics, and in exchange for this, he was willing to offer some degree of toleration to Nonconformists. In 1660, before he was invited to return to England, Charles had issued a “Declaration” from his residence in the Dutch city of Breda, an outline of the agenda he might follow if restored to the monarchy. There he set out freedom of religion for “tender consciences” as one of the measures he would pursue. Throughout his reign he continued to return to Parliament regularly with a request for a general amnesty for Protestant dissenters as well as Catholics, but the body always turned down these measures. In 1672 Charles felt strongly enough on the matter to pronounce his own Declaration of Indulgence that rescinded the penal laws against Nonconformists, including Catholics. This Declaration of Indulgence allowed Catholics to worship privately at home, while insisting that Protestant Nonconformists acquire a license to hold public worship services. One notable beneficiary of Charles’ initiative was the writer and Nonconformist minister John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress, the most profound and influential religious parable ever written in English. In 1672, Bunyan had already been in jail for twelve years for holding a service that was not in conformity with the rites of the Church of England. He was set free and permitted to purchase a license to preach. He then took over duties as the pastor of the separatist or Independent Church of Bedford. While the Declaration of Indulgence helped some Protestants like Bunyan, it was throughout the country as a ploy allowing for the outright practice of Catholicism, a suspicion that was confirmed for many in 1673 when the king’s brother and heir, the future James II, publicly declared himself a Catholic. When Parliament met again that same year, it declared that only it had the right to “suspend” penal statutes that touched on religious issues. Around the country attacks on Catholics increased, and so Charles II, correctly reading the political climate, canceled his Declaration. The most significant consequence of Charles’ initiative was that from this point forward, various Protestant groups throughout England began to see that they had a common cause in keeping England free of Catholicism. In 1673, these perceptions were not yet strong enough to wipe away the great animosity that still existed between the Nonconformists and Anglicans, but they were to grow over the following decades. Besides moving against Charles II’s toleration measures, the Parliament of 1673 also passed the Test Act, a law that required every individual holding government office to pass the test of receiving communion according to the Anglican rite. Another measure put forward in Parliament at this time, but never passed, sought to draw a distinction between Catholics and Protestant Dissenters by granting the latter limited toleration, while continuing to forbid the practices of the former.

The Succession

From the moment he announced his decision to practice as a Catholic in 1673, James’s religion became the central dispute in English politics. As a result of the Test Act, the future king had been deprived of a number of his political offices and in the last years of Charles’ reign, Protestant fears about the prospective king reached historic proportions. Rising anxieties were capped by the “Popish Plot” of 1678, when two schemers announced that they had come across information about a plot concocted by some Jesuits to assassinate the king, foment rebellion in Ireland, and place a Catholic on the English throne. The identity of this Catholic claimant was not revealed, but there was little doubt in most people’s minds that it was James. This “Popish Plot” has since been revealed as a complete fabrication, but that did not stop Parliament from embracing the story, and 35 people from being executed for complicity in the plot. In the aftermath of the Popish Plot, a movement began in the English Parliament to “exclude” James from the succession to the throne. England’s first political parties, in fact, coalesced around this very issue. The “Whig” party developed at this time from its support of the exclusion of James from the succession. To garner popular support for their program, the Whigs announced that they were in favor of rights for Protestant dissenters. At about the same time the “Tory” party emerged to support James’s right to the throne. For the Tories, the Whigs’ attempts to exclude James evoked the specter of the Puritan Civil Wars and the Commonwealth. The fear of revolution proved to be much greater among English elites than the fear of Catholicism. Charles was able to defeat the Whigs and those bills they put forward calling for exclusion of his brother from the throne. But for the first time in English history, a political group had sought the support of the Dissenters. In the years that followed those who hoped to shepherd their plans through Parliament were to realize the powerful support they might amass by playing to the issues that religious dissent posed.

A Catholic King

Charles II died in 1685, professing Catholicism on his deathbed. A nation of Protestants watched anxiously as the Catholic James II was crowned king. It became obvious that James was not willing to let things be, pushing whenever and wherever he could to grant legal rights to Catholics, and in the process, Protestant dissenters. After the disaster of the Declaration of the Indulgence, Charles’ ministers had followed a strategy of focusing the attentions of Parliament and the nation on the past as well as on the presumed future dangers that Protestant dissenters posed. James reversed this strategy, and sought to make the case to Protestant dissenters that it was in their best interest to join forces with the Catholics. In line with this strategy, he proposed in 1687 a new version of the Declaration of Indulgence, but this, like almost all of James’s initiatives, served only to rally opposition against him. His efforts aimed to drive a wedge between Anglicans and Dissenters and prompted the Anglican clergy’s protests. They insisted that they did not condemn the king’s Declaration from “any want of tenderness” toward the Dissenters, but that they opposed it because they believed James did not have the authority to issue it. Despite this show of opposition, the Declaration was allowed to stand, since at the time, James was in his fifties and without an heir. Most members of England’s political elite fully expected that the throne would soon pass to one of the king’s Protestant daughters. Soon, though, it was announced that James’s second wife, an Italian and Catholic, was expecting, and the thought of a Catholic heir was now too much for the English elite. In 1688, representatives of Parliament invited James’s daughter Mary and her husband William, who was the stadtholder of Holland, to take the English throne. James escaped England and found safe haven at the court of Louis XIV in France. Back in England, the Convention Parliament that was called to sit in 1689 passed a Toleration Act. This act permitted Protestant dissenters the right to their own churches and ministers. Dissenters still were not allowed civil rights, but they were no longer persecuted for their faith. Thus the long battles between Puritans, Anglicans, and Papists in England drew to a close.

Catholic Culture in the Age of the Baroque

The Rise of Evangelical Fervor

During the later sixteenth century both Protestant and Catholic reformers had begun to redouble their efforts to indoctrinate their laity in the tenets of their religions, and by the first decades of the Baroque era, rising evangelical fervor was evident in the efforts of devout Calvinist, Lutheran, and Catholic writers, artists, and theologians. One key element of these new forces was that all tried to win over those who were relatively uncommitted to the cause of a particular religion so that they would take up its standard. From the first, the new propaganda that resulted from these efforts was composed of both positive and negative strains. On the one hand, the new European devout aimed to indoctrinate people against competing religious positions, and so they frequently condemned the ideas of their opponents, not just as wrong headed, but as a dangerous and subversive disease, or in their own words “heretical poison.” On the other, the Protestant and Catholic devout sponsored new forms of art, architecture, and literature that were designed to propagate a positive image of their religion’s teachings. Certainly, the negative efforts to “evangelize” Europe’s population were most evident in the decades leading up to the Peace of Westphalia, that is, the period of the most intensive fighting in the continent over the issues the Protestant and Catholic Reformations generated. In these years a flood of polemical tracts, plays, and printed broadsides appeared condemning the ideas and actions of competitors. At the same time positive assessments of the strengths of each religion were also being generated that left their mark on the visual arts, architecture, and literature of the age. As religious tensions gradually subsided in the years following the Peace of Westphalia, the heightened fervor evident in the early seventeenth century tended to lessen. At the same time the legacy of a Europe divided into opposing religious camps persisted, leaving its mark on the culture of Protestant and Catholic regions. One result of this continuing trend was that by 1700, one’s identity and behavior were, in large part, shaped by whether one had grown up in a Lutheran, Calvinist, or Catholic state, for in each of these a different kind of culture now flourished.

Rome Triumphant

In the seventeenth century Roman Catholicism emerged triumphant in much of Europe, winning back lands, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, where Calvinism and Lutheranism had acquired many adherents during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. This trend continued in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as a number of princes in Germany and Central Europe re-converted to Catholicism, thus bringing their lands into the Roman orbit. While Scandinavia, much of Germany, parts of Switzerland, the United Dutch Provinces, England, and Scotland remained Protestant, the majority of Europe was now Catholic. Within this vast and diverse religious sphere, one of the most distinctive features of cultural and intellectual life was a cosmopolitan internationalism. As Rome began to revive as a great cultural center in the seventeenth century, artists and architects from throughout the Catholic world made their way to the ancient city, and the new patterns of Baroque painting and church building spread relatively quickly throughout Catholic regions. The traffic between Rome and the provinces of the Catholic world, though, also moved in the opposite direction. While Catholic artists like Peter Paul Rubens studied in Rome and returned to their own regions to promote the new dramatic intensity common to Baroque paintings, Italian artists were highly prized in Catholic courts and cities throughout Europe. The interconnectivity of the Catholic world in the seventeenth century thus became one of its most distinctive features. Throughout most of the seventeenth century Rome and Italian cities like Venice dominated style and fashions in art throughout the Catholic world, but gradually new centers emerged—particularly in France and Spain—that were to produce movements that spread quickly. The Jesuit order, with its systems of schools and seminaries in every reach of the Catholic continent, was also among the many important forces that nourished cultural connections and exchanges between different regions in this large world.

The Aesthetics of Catholic Devotion

By far, the dominant aesthetic Baroque Catholicism favored was one in which the senses of sight and touch predominated and in which the Catholic devout concentrated on the symbols of the faith. Since the rise of the Catholic Reformation in the sixteenth century, devotional writers like St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, and St. Teresa of Avila, a Spanish mystic, had recommended the necessity of establishing mental discipline in prayer. In contrast to the relatively unregulated world of benedictions and meditations of the later Middle Ages, the Jesuit order, in particular, developed the idea of a spiritual retreat. By relying on St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises they created the idea of a period of isolation in which the disciple could meditate and harness the imagination to avoid sin once he or she returned to society. In these sessions the participant learned how to parse out the hidden meanings behind things and events, and to rely on the senses of hearing, touch, and sight to draw closer to God. Catholics eagerly embraced the new devotions that flourished in this and similar veins in the seventeenth century, all of which emphasized in some way the powers of meditation. One devotion that flourished at this time was to the “Agonizing Death of Jesus Christ.” Sponsored again by the Jesuits, it appeared in the mid-seventeenth century and quickly spread. By the end of the seventeenth century there were chapels dedicated to the devotion in parishes everywhere throughout Catholic Europe. The devotion centered around weekly or monthly periods of meditation during which participants contemplated how Christ died so as to prepare them for a “good” death. Like other new devotions, the devotion to the “Agonizing Death of Jesus Christ” was propagated through thin printed books that laid out the liturgy that was to be followed weekly. These texts demanded that the group spend a certain designated amount of time each week meditating on common themes before performing other good works. These good works, in turn, reinforced one of the symbolic themes that the group had meditated on in the days and weeks before.

Art and Architecture

The contours of much of Catholic devotional life in the seventeenth-century thus emphasized the importance of mental discipline and the use of the senses, particularly vision, to approach God. The importance of forming mental pictures of events like the Agonies of Christ helped to foster a climate in which artistic images and architecture played a vital role, for these arts were seen as helping to sustain and deepen one’s devotion. It is hardly surprising, then, that the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries were great ages of church building and religious art in the Catholic world. The sheer number of church building and remodeling projects that were begun in these years still manages to astound the modern observer. In Catholic cities and parishes throughout the Continent, construction crews were in almost constant motion to refurbish older churches and build new monuments intended to satisfy and sustain the visual and sensual piety of the Catholic faithful. While the Jesuits and other religious orders commissioned and paid for a great deal of this art, the remodeling of parish churches was a task undertaken and financed at the local level by parishioners. Thus the sheer number of monuments points, in part, to the widespread popularity of Catholic Baroque piety. In Central Europe, the great resurgence in artistic production and church architectural projects was postponed for a generation or two longer than in Italy, Spain, and France because of the depression the Thirty Years’ War produced. But when this resurgence began in the decades following the Peace of Westphalia (1648) it soon transformed the religious landscape of the region. In much of Central Europe, particularly in southern Germany, Catholics continued to live side-by-side with Protestant populations, and the building of dramatic Baroque churches thus became a direct counterattack on the sensibilities of Protestants, who worshipped in surroundings that were far more restrained, even dour. Throughout the region most churches were either reconstructed or refurbished in the Baroque style in the generations following the Thirty Years’ War. While many projects were commissioned and paid for by religious orders, far more were financed at the local level. In this way the typical parish church in the region acquired the notable features of the Baroque: a sense of dramatic climax, a sumptuous and ornate ornamentation, and a plethora of religious images that expressed the rising popularity of modes of piety that aimed at mental discipline.

Ritual and Display

Another feature of Baroque piety that has long been noted by scholars was the rising affection for pilgrimages, processions, and other rituals that displayed and defended elements of Catholic teaching. During the sixteenth century the Protestant reformers had generally shared distaste for much of the ritual formalism of the medieval church, and they had often attacked displays of piety like processions and pilgrimages as vain and useless. As the Catholic resurgence began to heat up in Europe at the end of the sixteenth century, pilgrimage shrines began again to attract thousands of pilgrims in the Catholic world. While many made the journey to great European centers of pilgrimage, like Rome or Santiago di Compostella in Spain, by far the most important centers of such devotion were local ones. Every Catholic region in Europe came in these years to possess a large number of local shrines: some quite large and attracting pilgrims from throughout the state, others considerably smaller and having only a regional following. One interesting feature of many of these seventeenth-century shrines was their attempts to copy and imitate developments from other parts of the Catholic world. In the sixteenth century one of the most popular devotions throughout Europe had been the pilgrimage to the Holy House at Loreto in northern Italy, a shrine that since the later Middle Ages had alleged to possess the dwelling in which Mary, Joseph, and the young Jesus had lived. During the mid-sixteenth century the Jesuit Peter Canisius had popularized this devotion throughout Europe by publishing the Laurentian Litany, a collection of prayers that had been found in the house and that alleged to have been written by the Virgin Mary. The popularity of the Litany sustained the Italian shrine as a place of popular devotion, but it also bred numerous “copies” of the Loreto chapel and its house throughout Europe, as pilgrims visited the site and wished to have a similar place of devotion nearby. Loreto was just one of many similar devotions that spread throughout the continent in this way, as Catholics in one region copied religious images, shrines, and other elements of Catholic devotion that had proven to be beneficial elsewhere. Journeys to these new centers of devotion were often undertaken in processions, with entire parishes making the trip to a local shrine on some mutually agreed day, usually in the summer months. But processions on saints’ days or on major church feasts staged at home in the village, as well as other rituals like the blessing of animals and fields were common events throughout the Baroque Catholic world, too.

Protestant Culture in the Seventeenth Century

Protestant Aesthetics

While significant differences continued to exist between Calvinists, Lutherans, and Anglicans, Protestant notions about art and culture differed vastly from their Catholic counterparts. Protestants generally placed a higher emphasis on the word and the sense of hearing than they did on visual stimuli. These developments resulted, in part, from the Protestant churches’ elevation of the sermon, scripture reading, and the study of devotional works over and against the rich ritual life of the late-medieval Church. Of all the Protestant religions, only Lutheranism kept some place, although in a drastically reduced form, for the commissioning of religious art in churches. In the Calvinist churches of Switzerland, Scotland, and the Netherlands, the frescoes of the Middle Ages were destroyed with coats of whitewash. Stained glass, sculptures, indeed all art that tried to represent the biblical story or the history of the church was removed. A similar situation prevailed throughout much of England, where Puritan influence dominated from the late sixteenth century onward. Archbishop Laud’s reintroduction of rood screens in English churches in the 1630s was one exception to this general trend. These traditional screens had been richly decorated, covered with wood sculptures and had obscured the High Altar from the congregations’ view. The general furor that Laud’s actions caused meant that rood screens were to be definitively eliminated in the wake of the English Civil Wars. They survive today only as a rarity in English churches. Thus in place of the rich ritualistic and intensely visual experience that the church had fostered in the Middle Ages and which expanded during the Catholic Baroque, Protestant worshippers were presented with a situation that was undoubtedly severe. Yet at the same time it was not without its own aesthetics. Great churches were built in Protestant Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the wake of the Great Fire of London in 1666, Sir Christopher Wren, a prominent mathematician and scientist, turned his attentions to architecture and planned an ambitious rebuilding of the city. Wren’s own father had been a clergyman who had served the monarchy in the enviable position of Dean of Windsor, that is, he had been the administrator of one of the most important royal chapels in England. He understood that Protestant services called for interiors in which good acoustics allowed parishioners to hear the sermon and appreciate the service music. He rebuilt London’s churches with clean sight lines, bathed them in light, and endowed these churches with spaces that provided a clear and un-obstructed appreciation of the sermon, the central focal point of religious worship in these years. Wren’s masterpiece, the great Cathedral of St. Paul’s, was the largest church ever constructed in Protestant Europe and a truly noble building. If its interior today seems strangely unadorned—or in the words of Queen Victoria “dreary”—its aesthetic restraint attempted to remain faithful to one of the Reformation’s central teachings: that the word of God, rather than human representations, should predominate in the life of the church. In many places where the new Protestant teachings were adopted, they gave birth to attempts like those of Wren. That is, Protestant architects labored to find ways to endow congregations with spaces of sufficient dignity that nevertheless held true to Reformation teachings.

The Sermon

Still no one could argue that Protestantism’s greatest achievements lay in the realms of art or architecture. Instead the monuments of the era were concentrated in literature, in sermons, and devotional works. The seventeenth century witnessed a great flowering of the sermon in both English and in German, with this literary form reaching a level of complexity and sophistication from which it has consistently fallen since then. It became a common custom for devout Protestants to attend sermons almost every day of the week which were as much performed as they were spoken. Since they invariably involved disputes with other preachers, they resembled intellectual sporting contests. In Germany, the fashion for oratory gave birth to the custom in Lutheranism for elaborate funeral sermons, a genre that ministers in the church used to supplement their otherwise meager incomes. Governments regulated the fees that German ministers might charge to deliver a sermon at the funeral of a loved one, but the greatest of these literary productions were printed and circulated to mourners in the weeks after the funeral. They were collected and read in the months and years that followed. The most expensive kind of funeral sermon provided its listeners not only with a detailed exposition of biblical texts but also with a Lebenslauf, a summary of the deceased’s life, which in many ways resembled a modern eulogy. Lutheran ministers used these short biographies moralistically to point out the pious virtues that the deceased had exhibited during his or her life. The surviving printed texts, of which more than 100,000 printed examples exist from the seventeenth century, points to the widespread popularity of sermons as a kind of entertainment, even if that entertainment occurred in the otherwise dark hours of a funeral.

Hymn Singing

If the visual arts played a relatively minor role in Protestant churches during the seventeenth century, the era did witness an enormous flowering of religious music in those countries that adopted Reformation teachings. In German Lutheranism the age of the Baroque was also a great age of hymn writing, with thousands of hymns being written and regularly performed. In the course of the seventeenth century, these tunes, which were known then as chorales, grew steadily more complex in performance. Polyphony, orchestral accompaniments, and organ interludes were added to their performance in church, preparing the way for the still widely performed cantatas and chorales of figures like Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). At the same time Calvinists rejected hymn singing and removed all instrumental music from religious ceremonies as a vestige of “popish” religion. To their minds, Christians only legitimately came together in order to pray and to listen to learned disputation on the Word of God. Although they might have wished that religious music completely disappear from the church, Calvinist ministers generally conceded some ground to its widespread popularity. They allowed the singing of the psalms set to simple tunes that were sung in unison. In the Church of England, Anglicans allowed music at both ends of the spectrum. In the simplest services influenced by Puritan sensibilities little or no music was performed. But at court and in London’s greatest churches, elaborate service music often accompanied the celebration of worship.


The periods of quiet and introspection that seventeenth-century Protestantism afforded helped to inspire a new genre: the diary. The diary was particularly popular among Calvinists, whose church services and devotions were spare in the extreme and demanded that the faithful spend a great deal of time looking inward to examine their own consciences. Among Calvinists, diary writing fulfilled a role similar to that which it had played for figures like Saint Augustine. In his Confessions Augustine had pondered his spiritual autobiography, setting down his deepest and most inward thoughts to encourage readers to avoid his mistakes and to emulate whatever virtues he had achieved. By contrast, many Calvinist diaries were private affairs in which the writer recapped his thoughts on a daily basis, setting down the spiritual trials he had faced and trying to see the hand of God in the events that he experienced that day. These diaries in turn became the source materials for the spiritual autobiographies that began to be published during this era. Aimed at inspiring others along the path of righteousness, these autobiographies narrated in minute detail the struggles of their authors with faith and its obligations. Modern sensibilities cannot grasp the spiritual edification Protestants received from these “play-by-play” accounts of another Christian’s life. But over and over again, Protestants in the era recounted the “godly” inspiration that they derived from these accounts, contrasting this inspiration against the “popish” rituals of Catholics.

Impact of Calvinism

If the Jesuits dominated seventeenth-century Catholic piety, it was Calvinism that exercised the greatest force over the religion of seventeenth-century Protestants. While the number of territories in Europe that accepted Calvinism was quite small and Calvinists found themselves at odds with kings and princes, the movement exerted an influence far greater than mere numbers suggest. Generally, Calvinism was a creed popular among the middling ranks of people in the city, those with incomes far above the poverty level, but who otherwise possessed little political power. In the countryside, the gentry and members of the minor nobility were often drawn to Calvinism. Even in Germany, where Calvinist influence was relatively minor, the appearance of Calvinist states prompted Lutherans to develop ways of imitating Calvinist piety for their parishioners to avoid disaffection. Peasants and urban workers were generally not drawn to the movement. At the same time, the men and women who embraced Calvinism were disciplined and focused, and thus the movement had an impact on society far greater than its numbers would suggest. The social character of Calvinism gave Protestantism a rebellious character on the international scene. Everywhere during the Age of the Baroque international Protestantism was the voice of political opposition, the voice of political challenge. It was a French Calvinist, Phillippe Duplessis-Mornay (1549-1623), who wrote the first political treatise that maintained subjects’ rights to rebel. It was from Calvinists like Duplessis-Mornay that key seventeenth-century political theories were to be derived. In his Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos or A Defense of Liberty against Tyrants (1579) he argued that rulers entered into a contract with their subjects, and if a ruler did not live up to his contractual obligations then subjects might rebel. It was ideas like these that proved so troublesome to seventeenth-century kings, while at the same time these very Calvinist impulses helped to give birth to the ideas of figures like John Locke (1632-1704), who insisted that the contractual nature of government legitimated subjects’ rights to rebel. Fueled with ideas like those of Duplessis-Mornay, Calvinist-inspired Puritans proved to be more than willing to sign the death warrant of King Charles I in England, and their criticisms of arbitrary government were only to grow in the decades that followed. The serious, sometimes dour piety of their most articulate leaders tended to spill out from their movement, helping to shape the religion and politics in all Protestant states at the time.

Free Will Versus Predestination in the Dutch Republic

A Common Problem

The establishment of state churches brought with it conflict and controversy among churchmen over official church doctrine. An issue that dominated the life of more than one church at the time was the question of the role of free will versus predestination in salvation. Proponents of free will insisted that individuals actively participated in their own salvation. Proponents of predestination argued on the contrary that salvation was a free gift from God and that individuals could do nothing to warrant it. Of concern for the promoters of free will was the responsibility of individual Christians for their salvation. If salvation came only from God, supporters of free will argued, then a Christian was under no obligation to live a righteous life. For their part, promoters of predestination countered that their doctrine was a logical one given the sovereignty of God over everything in Creation. To say that human beings had the capacity to earn salvation was heretical to them because it suggested that men and women had the power to dictate to God. This issue had been of major importance since the early years of the Reformation, and indeed it was an ancient dilemma in the history of the church, having produced bitter controversies in the later Roman Empire between St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo, and the Pelagians who were followers of the free will theologian Pelagius in the fifth century. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other Protestant reformers had all upheld the Augustinian teaching of predestination and had outlawed any notion that works played a part in salvation. Yet the doctrine of predestination was a troubling one, and Protestant theologians continued to grapple with it in the seventeenth century, sometimes developing positions that were more akin to the notion of moral cooperation the Catholic church taught, i.e. the notion that Christians needed to participate in their salvation and perfect their faith through works. On the other side of the confessional divide, the issue was also of importance to Catholics, and in the seventeenth century many reached back to Augustine, finding in his doctrine of predestination an antidote to the teachings of the Jesuits and other orders of the Catholic Reformation who they felt had made the doctrines of human salvation too easy by overemphasizing human participation.

Arminians versus Gomarists

The first seventeenth-century confrontations about the nature of free will took place in the Calvinist churches of the Dutch Republic. On doctrinal issues, the Dutch Calvinist church, like all Calvinist churches, followed the lead of the church of Geneva, the church founded by John Calvin (1509-1564) himself. More than any other Protestant reformer, Calvin had made Augustine’s teachings on predestination central to his theology and he had insisted upon a rigorous interpretation of the ancient theologian. For Calvin, it was essential for the Christian to understand that before the world itself existed, God had chosen the souls that would see salvation, and also those that would be damned. There was nothing that any human being might do to alter these facts. What made Geneva unique among sixteenth-century European political entities was that it was ruled by a theocracy. The Consistory, the governing council of the Calvinist church of Geneva, was composed of both churchmen and lay elders. In meetings of the Consistory, churchmen had pride of place, and in general in Geneva temporal matters gave way to ecclesiastical concerns, not the other way around. But the exclusionary, anti-evangelical nature of the Calvinist message put off many Dutch Protestants. Likewise many lay Protestants took exception to the division between church and state advocated by the followers of Geneva. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, these groups found their spokesperson in Jacob Harmenszoon, who was known as Jacobus Arminius (1559-1609). Arminius was a theologian who taught at Amsterdam and Leiden. Arminius turned Calvin’s formulation of the doctrine of predestination around, insisting that if God had created men and women to sin, a logical extension of Calvin’s teachings on predestination, then God himself would have been the author of sin. Arminius sought to open up Dutch Protestantism to the idea of a broader, more inclusive church. He modified Genevan teaching on predestination by insisting that while salvation is a gift from God, that God only had foreknowledge of whether an individual would accept or reject his gift. He did not, in other words, determine that choice. Thus, in granting individuals the ability to embrace or ignore salvation, Arminius affirmed that individuals had free will. Arminius died in 1609, but the movement that coalesced around his ideas persisted, winning many adherents including Jan van Oldenbarneveldt (1547-1619), the civil leader of the Dutch Republic, and Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), perhaps the greatest legal scholar of the entire seventeenth century in Europe. Oldenbarneveldt and Grotius had been involved in negotiating the terms of peace with Spain, an effort that had drawn to them the enmity of Maurice of Nassau (1567-1625), military leader of the Republic. In 1610 Oldenbarneveldt, Grotius, and others published a “Remonstrance,” a public defense of their views, and from that time onward supporters of the Arminian position became known as “Remonstrants.”

The Opposition’S Response

To the opposition, the party led by Oldenbarneveldt and Grotius was a group of heretical Pelagians. Their ideas, in other words, marked a resurgence similar to those the great Augustine had condemned centuries before. The “Contra-Remonstrants,” as the members of the opposing party were sometimes known, found their leader in the figure of Francisus Gomarus (1563-1641), so that they have often been called “Gomarists.” On their side they enlisted the support of the powerful political leader Maurice of Nassau (1567-1625). Gomarus and Maurice upheld Calvinist principles of doctrine and church governance inherited from Geneva. Whether Maurice’s defense of predestination and the authority of the church was prompted by spiritual concerns or by his desire for revenge against some Remonstrants has always been an open question. But he was a widely respected figure, and in July 1618 he used his army to suppress the Arminian party, arresting all public officials throughout the Dutch Republic who were known as Remonstrants, including Oldenbarneveldt and Grotius, and replacing them with Gomarists. As a result, the States General, the governing body of the Dutch Republic, was now purged of Arminians and it called for a synod, a general meeting of officials of the Dutch church, to decide the issue. The Synod of Dordrecht or Dordt met from November 1618 to May 1619. It was significant in that Calvinists from around Europe attended. Completely controlled by the Gomarists, the synod condemned Arminius’ teachings as heresy and reaffirmed the teachings of the Genevan church, including those concerned with the separation of church and state. Maurice had Oldenbarneveldt convicted of treason and beheaded just after the conclusion of the synod. With the help of his wife, Grotius escaped from prison and went to live in Paris, where he entered the service of Sweden’s king as an ambassador. Over the coming years Arminians were persecuted in the Dutch Republic or forced into exile. After Maurice’s death in 1625, his brother and successor Frederick Henry pronounced a general amnesty. An Arminian church has continued to exist since that time in the Dutch Republic, but its influence on the national church ended with the Synod of Dordrecht.

Jansenism and the Jesuits in France

Character of the Jansenist Movement

The issue of free will and predestination also played a key role in the series of disputes that occurred between the Jansenists, followers of the Flemish Catholic theologian Cornelius Jansen (1585-1638) and members of the Jesuit order. In the Dutch Republic those who dissented from official church teachings had done so with the aim of broadening the national church, that is, they had desired to make it more inclusive and palatable to the laity by adopting the “free will” position. In France, by contrast, the dissenting Jansenists wished to narrow the possibilities of belief within the national church. In the Dutch Republic the plea had been for the national church to break free from the constraints of Calvinism’s Augustinian position. But in France, the Jansenists aimed to embrace Augustinianism. The group was comprised of a self-consciously selected cadre of aristocratic elites and cultivated intellectuals centered around the prominent women’s religious convent at Port Royal, on the southern fringes of Paris. From their homes in this section of the city, the Jansenists aimed to create a religious utopia, peopled with Catholics who held true to the teachings of Saint Augustine. Ultimately, this dream was brutally snuffed out when in 1709 Louis XIV sent troops to raze the abbey and remove every trace of its existence from the site. Yet while the dream was alive, Jansenism inspired French intellectual and artistic culture. The movement changed and developed over the course of the seventeenth century as it came to accommodate different groups of dissenters. In its original form, though, it aimed to undermine and destroy what its members felt was the Pelagianism of the Jesuit order.

Influence of the Jesuits in France

In the first half of the seventeenth century, the French Catholic church was very much under the influence of the Jesuit religious order and its widely popular evangelization efforts. The Jesuit strategy was enormously successful in these years, but in the minds of many devout Catholics, Jesuit success came at the expense of key doctrines of the church. While opposition to the order arose for numerous reasons, the most controversial aspect of the Jesuits’ work in the country had to do with their teaching concerning the sacraments of Confession and Communion. Since the thirteenth century the Roman church has required every believer to perform annually the confession of sins followed by the taking of communion. Although some devout Catholics participated in these sacraments more often than annually, most did not, and the requirement helped to give birth to the notion of “Easter Duties” among Catholics. The Jesuits desired to make the performance of Confession and the taking of Communion less of a psychological ordeal than it had been previously. They recommended frequent Confession and Communion, so that the sinner was not forced to recollect back over the course of the entire year to unearth his or her shortcomings. At the same time they applied concepts inherited from their founder St. Ignatius Loyola to teach that sin resulted from lapses in mental discipline. As spiritual advisers in the seventeenth century, the order frequently counseled the laity that lapses of sin were not tragic, but that they might be rectified by reapplying an even greater amount of mental discipline in the future. To their opponents, this approach to sin came with its own logical and theological problems. Sins, they argued, were not just mental lapses, but transgressions against God’s laws and the teachings of the church. The Jesuits’ critics thus accused the order of rationalizing away the spiritual and social consequences of sin so as to free the faithful from the stress of recognizing the magnitude of their wrongdoing. An even more important problem for Catholic theologians was the order’s blatant disregard for the idea of predestination, a key traditional teaching of the church. In the Roman Catholic Church, as in the Protestant, predestination was considered an orthodox belief, although Catholics differed from Protestants in teaching on the matter since they insisted that those who were among the elect needed to make up for their sins by performing good works. The Jesuits went far beyond other Catholic movements of the day in characterizing the effort at mental discipline as, in and of itself, a pious good work that led to salvation, a belief that smacked to many of Pelagianism, the ancient heretical notion that human beings in effect saved themselves. In the early seventeenth century, Jesuit teachings concerning the sacraments and salvation were already exciting considerable controversy, yet each time prominent theologians and officials of the church complained to Rome, they were rebuffed. Powerful forces stood in defense of the Society of Jesus, and in 1611 Pope Paul V had declared any further discussion of the Jesuit teachings concerning predestination and salvation off limits. As he declared, both the Jesuit interpretation of predestination and that of their chief opponents were orthodox, and in the future the two sides were to refrain from accusing each other of heresy.

Cornelius Jansen

Here matters were to rest until 1640, when the works of Cornelius Jansen came to be published. Jansen was an unusual figure to engender a theological revolution, for his entire life had been spent as a conscientious church official. In his youth he had been trained at the University of Louvain, a center of anti-Jesuit teaching and then he filled a variety of administrative posts in the church, dying in 1638 when he was the bishop of Ypres in what is now Belgium. Despite his position within the church establishment, he spent much of his spare time composing what he hoped was to be the ultimate proof of the Jesuits’ heresies. Concerned with the papal order forbidding discussion of Jesuit teaching, and with what the Jesuits would do with his writings if they became public before he was finished, Jansen had a printing press installed in the episcopal palace in Ypres so that he would not have to send copy out to have it set in press. Jansen did not complete his magnum opus until 1638, shortly before his death from the plague, and he left it to two of his assistants to see the work through final publication. The Jesuits heard about Jansen’s work and sought to suppress it. But two years after Jansen’s death his Augustinus nonetheless appeared. The work was composed in three books. In the first Jansen outlined the ideas of the heretical Pelagians and semi-Pelagians of the ancient church. In the second book, he presented the case for St. Augustine’s teachings concerning predestination while arguing that the notion of the freedom of the will was illusory. Like Augustine before him, and John Calvin in the sixteenth century, Jansen insisted that human beings’ wills were enslaved to their sinful nature, and could hardly be considered to be free to choose salvation or damnation. In the third and final book, Jansen defended the concept of predestination by showing that it was not an illogical belief. He argued that God’s power was so great that he might lead the will of the elect to salvation without the elect having any idea that they were being led. It was only in the work’s appendix that Jansen compared the contemporary Jesuits to the ancient Pelagians. Jansen had taken the defense of predestination to an extreme, and because of the papal order forbidding discussion of the Jesuits’ teachings concerning salvation, he left himself and anyone who read his book open to the charge of being “crypto-Calvinists.” As the work soon became popular among the Jesuits’ opponents, the Society responded by accusing Jansen’s adherents of heresy.

Spread of Jansenism in France

During his university days Jansen had made the acquaintance of a young French noble named Jean Duvergier de Hauranne (1581-1643), who has become known to history as the Abbé de Saint-Cyran, for the church office he held. The relationship between these two figures was lifelong and close, and their correspondence allows us to reconstruct the development of Jansen’s ideas concerning Augustinian theology. By the 1630s Saint-Cyran had become one of France’s greatest spiritual and devotional leaders, and he began to mount an attack on Jesuit teachings, primarily by developing an intensely austere devotional movement, which would only later become known as “Jansenism.” Jansen had been concerned primarily with the Jesuits’ theology, but Saint-Cyran had been trained in a Jesuit college as a youth and he understood that the problems with Jesuit teaching ran far deeper than just theological ideas. He thus labored to develop a piety that might counter the widely successful program of the Jesuits, with its emphasis on reassuring sinners and developing the practice of mental discipline. His austere devotions tried to eliminate any elements of psychological reassurance, and instead to build a Christian life that was a continual and prolonged cycle of penance and contemplation on one’s wrongdoings. Where the Jesuits counseled frequent confession and the taking of communion so that eliminating sin became a routine affair, Saint-Cyran argued that the devout should prolong the cycle of penance that preceded taking communion as long as possible so that the sinner might concentrate on internal self-examination and ascetic rituals. In this way they might be adequately prepared to take communion.

Where the Jesuits’ critics charged that the order cheapened the cycle of sin and forgiveness, Saint-Cyran and his developing movement in France aimed to make penance itself into a way of life. The teachings soon became widely admired for the austere discipline they inspired.

The Arnauld Family

Before Saint-Cyran, the battle against the Jesuits had taken place primarily on an intellectual and academic plane. Saint-Cyran opened up a second front, providing Catholics who opposed the Jesuits with a devotional alternative. Three generations of one family, the Arnaulds, helped Saint-Cyran cement his religious ideas into a program for reform of the French Catholic Church. The Arnaulds had long been associated with the fight against the Jesuits. Antoine Arnauld (1569-1619), the patriarch of the family, was a lawyer who had successfully argued a case for the University of Paris against the Jesuits before King Henri IV, this case being, as it was joked in the seventeenth century, “the original sin of the Arnaulds.” Antoine and his wife Catherine had twenty children, ten of whom survived to adulthood. Six of the ten were girls that became nuns in the abbey at Port Royal; two of them, Jacqueline Marie-Angélique Arnauld (1591-1661) and Jeanne-Catherine Agnès Arnauld (1593-1671), served as the monastery’s most famous abbesses. One son, Robert Arnauld D’Andilly (1589-1674) eventually became a lobbyist for the Jansenist cause at French court. A second son, Henri Arnauld (1597-1692), became the bishop of Angers and the most stalwart defender of the Jansenist cause among the clergy. A third son, Antoine Arnauld or “Arnauld le Grand” (1612-1694), as he is known in French history, introduced Saint-Cyran’s devotional ideals to the broader French public through his book, On Frequent Communion(1643), one of the first works of theology to be written and published in French. On Frequent Communion attacked the Jesuit custom of encouraging frequent communion, and instead argued for a life engaged in penance preparatory to relatively infrequent communion. Three grandsons of the family—Antoine Le Maistre, Isaac-Louis Le Maistre de Sacy, and Le Maistre de Sacy—became “solitaires,” or hermits who took over a country monastery that their aunt Marie-Angélique had deserted when she moved her convent to Port Royal in Paris. These three specialized in schooling, creating in their Petits Ecoles, or Little Schools, a celebrated alternative to Jesuit education. Saint-Cyran served as the spiritual guide to the entire Arnauld family, and channeled their considerable individual talents in the directions he thought best helped the cause. He began offering spiritual advice to Robert Arnauld D’Andilly in 1620, and through him he was introduced to Jacqueline Marie-Angélique, who was already known at the time as Mère Angélique, and was a woman of unconquerable will who was determined to reform the relaxed life in her convent. When her sister published a tract in 1633, the monastery of Port Royal fell under suspicion of heresy, and Saint-Cyran sprang to its defense. From this date his relationship with Mère Angélique and Port Royal grew closer, and by 1636 Saint-Cyran had become the confessor and spiritual director of the institution. By this time, too, Saint-Cyran had already convinced Antoine Le Maistre, Mère Angélique’s nephew, to become a hermit, and to devote himself to founding the “Little Schools.”

The Movement Attracts Suspicion

Cardinal Richelieu, chief minister of Louis XIII, realized the influence Saint-Cyran was having on the Arnauld family and, through the Arnaulds, on some of the best and brightest young minds in France. Saint-Cyran and Richelieu, in fact, had been good friends during their youth, so Richelieu sought to neutralize his old friend with the offer of a bishopric. When Saint-Cyran refused in 1638, Richelieu had him confined at the royal prison in Vincennes. Saint-Cyran remained there until Richelieu’s death in 1643. Weakened by his five years of incarceration, he died a few weeks after being released. But even Saint-Cyran’s imprisonment did not stop Port Royal from becoming a magnet for bright young Catholics serious about their devotional life. Jacqueline Pascal, sister of the famous mathematician Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), joined the nuns and her brother came to visit her in the convent frequently and was thus drawn into these circles. In 1653 Blaise had a religious conversion, a “night of fire” as he described it in his Pensées or Thoughts. He began to live in the countryside near the group’s male hermitage as a result. Likewise, the painter Philippe de Champagne (1602-1674), who was ironically best known for his portrait of Cardinal Richelieu, came to share the group’s convictions, and settled like Pascal near Le Maistre’s hermits. Jean Racine (1639-1699), the great French dramatist and playwright of the day, also received his formal education in this group’s “Little Schools.” Later in life, Racine repudiated his past in order to build a career at court, but before his death in 1699 he requested to be buried in the cemetery near to the school he had attended in his youth.

Papal Condemnation and Royal Suppression

In France, Saint-Cyran’s anti-Jesuit movement developed among French elites without any direct inspiration from Cornelius Jansen. Only through Saint-Cyran did Jansen help shape the French protest against the Jesuits, and Saint-Cyran’s ideas were not so much derived from those of Jansen as nurtured by the two men’s friendship and shared values. Nevertheless, the publication of the Augustinus gave the Jesuits a target to hang on the back of their enemies, and from the time of that volume’s first appearance, the movement in France became increasingly identified with Jansen’s ideas and was consequently placed on the defensive. The Augustinus had appeared in September 1640, and by August of the following year, the Holy Office in Rome had already condemned it and prohibited Catholics from reading it. By June 1642, the actions of the Holy Office had been reinforced by the Papal bull, In eminenti, which likewise condemned the book and placed it off limits to Catholics. These pronouncements from Rome did nothing to stifle an ever more agitated debate about the ideas in the book in France, since papal decrees had no force in the country unless they were affirmed and promulgated by the king. Claiming that the Augustinus, not its ideas, had been condemned, Saint-Cyran’s group, now openly referred to as Jansenists, continued to make their case, thus raising the ire of the Jesuits and the royal government. The matter was studied throughout the 1640s, and theologians in the service of the king picked apart the Jansenists’ argument. They identified five propositions in the Augustinus they felt were heretical and sent the propositions to Rome for papal condemnation. A second papal decree of 1653 Cum occasione condemned the five propositions. Though this was a major defeat, the Jansenists refused to give up. Their leader at the time, Antoine Arnauld, counseled his followers to recognize that the five propositions were, in fact, heretical. Then in a piece of hair-splitting that bespoke his training in the law, he advised them to maintain that the five propositions could not be found in the Augustinus at all. While Jansenists satisfied themselves that they were free to continue to study and teach theAugustinus, their political support within France began to deteriorate. The royal government made clear its disapproval of the group, and insults and acts of persecution against them mounted.

Provincial Letters

Then, just when it looked as if all was lost, the brilliance of the group’s polemicists, particularly Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), helped to create a widespread resurgence. Following his conversion, Pascal had sworn only to use his pen to defend the Jansenist cause. In 1656 Arnauld enlisted him to make the Jansenist case in a fashion that would appeal to the larger Catholic community. Pascal responded with the Provincial Letters, a series of nineteen letters, written in collaboration with Antoine Arnauld and Antoine Le Maistre, and published under a pseudonym over the course of the period 1656-1657. The letters alleged to be a description of actual Jesuit pastoral practices. In a satirical tone and in a style so elegant they shaped French prose writing for decades, the letters skewered the Jesuits, going so far as to suggest that the Jesuits rationalized away murder for the convenience of their followers. The Provincial Letters were a resounding success. By the publication of the fifth letter, the press run had risen to 6,000 copies, an exceptionally large number at the time. In 1657 the complete editions of the Provincial Letters were published, helping to divert pressure away from the Jansenists and placing the Jesuits on the defensive. Written in French and invoking a French sense of ecclesiastical ethics, the Provincial Letters were also important in associating the Jansenist cause with Gallicanism, the concern among French Catholics for the independence of their church from Rome. From the 1660s onward, the term “Jansenist” came to be associated with other causes, causes that were now related to the growing distaste for the Jesuit order and the effort to produce a Catholicism in France that was in large part free of Roman influence. The Provincial Letters allowed for these developments.

Suppression and Rebirth

Although Antoine Arnauld had used sophisticated legal arguments to insist that the Jansenists were free to read and study the Augustinus, the actions of the royal government and the papacy increasingly placed that work off limits during the 1650s. In 1657, Cardinal Mazarin, then France’s chief minister, called an Assembly of the Clergy to compose a formula of faith based upon recent papal pronouncements, and he required members of the French clergy to sign it. Jansenists, however, refused, and although the state and church persisted in their demands, the Jansenists’ cause came to be aided by the complex nature of negotiations between Louis XIV and the papacy over the direction France’s suppression of the movement should take. Matters ground to a halt until Pope Clement IX formulated a compromise in 1669. He permitted Jansenists to sign the royal government’s formula of faith with the understanding that they might still maintain that the heretical propositions were not in the document, but that they would cease to argue about it for the good of the church. This Peace of Clement IX signaled the end of the first era of French Jansenism. When the battle over Jansenism flared up again in France during the first decade of the eighteenth century, the issue that predominated in the debate was not the presence of heretical doctrines in the writings of Jansen, but the ideas of the theologian Quesnel, who took over leadership of the Jansenists after Henri Arnauld died in 1692. Quesnel and the Jansenists who followed continued to see themselves as Augustinians fighting the influence of Jesuits. But the point of conflict for them was the issue of the rights of national churches vis-à-vis papal authority. In the eighteenth century Jansenism became an international movement as ecclesiastical nationalists in other states looked to French theologians for inspiration and arguments. The movement experienced its greatest victory in 1763, when by papal decree the Jesuit order was dissolved. But despite this victory, Jansenism never again coalesced as a movement with the force that it had in and around Paris in the mid-seventeenth century. That movement had presented the French church with a positive model for a Catholicism that was very different from that of the Jesuits and the reigning spirit of the Catholic Reformation.

Magic and Witchcraft

Popular Magic

In early-modern Europe state churches identified enemies among the missionaries of rival Christian churches, even as they also singled out promoters and participants of popular magic as targets. Early-modern Europeans, like their medieval ancestors, retained a strong belief in supernatural planes of existence that bounded the natural and visible world. Popular magic focused on the spirits who were believed to exist in these supernatural planes, and on how these spirits could be manipulated to serve the needs of humans. Knowing the denizens of the supernatural as well as how to invoke them and what they could do for you was the stated expertise of “wise men” and “cunning women.” These were just two names for what anthropologists today call shamans, that is, diviners and healers who provided their clients with help and healing based upon the claim to expertise in accessing the supernatural world. Early-modern Europeans did not turn to shamans in every emergency. Shamans were usually called upon in those circumstances where the supernatural aid the church offered through prayers and recourse to the saints was judged either inadequate or inappropriate. In other words, when early-modern folk had need of a love or fertility potion, their first recourse was not to their priest or minister, but to the local shaman. By the same token, if witchcraft was suspected as the cause of an illness, Christian prayer was not deemed a strong enough counter-measure; a shaman was needed to cast a counter spell. The bodies of knowledge popular magic drew upon often reflected oral traditions from a host of pre-Christian religious traditions. By the early-modern period Christian supernatural entities had also been pressed into service to help humans with their problems. Angels, as well as demons, might be invoked to help find lost or stolen property. Saints, most especially the Virgin Mary, were beseeched for cures. Thus peasants trying to protect themselves from the vagaries of poor harvests, disease, infertility, and natural disasters had access to a rich supernatural world peopled with many different entities, all of whom might offer aid in particular circumstances. The church had long cast a jaundiced eye on these popular beliefs, having for centuries taught that it was appropriate to seek help through prayer to the saints, angels, and God himself. Europe’s shamans, on the other hand, had no qualms about approaching any and all kinds of spiritual forces. They might even appeal to Satan himself in trying to resolve a thorny issue. Thus priests and ministers perceived shamans and the longstanding traditions of popular magic as sources of competition as well as a dangerous traffic with the evil spirits that peopled the supernatural order. They sought to have “wise men” and “cunning women” arrested and tried for these crimes as witches. During the first half of the seventeenth century religious and state officials stepped up their campaign against shamanism, helping to send longstanding traditions of popular magic into a decline. Magical beliefs and practices were now forced increasingly underground, where they were prized by some and feared by others. Popular magic’s decline, then, was in part a result of the witch hunt, which had by the mid-seventeenth century made it extremely dangerous to practice any form of magic for fear of being identified as a witch.

Learned Magic

Popular magic stood in contrast to learned magic, a very different set of teachings that had similarly flourished for centuries. In early-modern Europe learned magic rarely involved the invocation of spirits, but rather it assumed that certain hidden connections existed between observable phenomena on earth and unseen phenomena in the universe, and that it was possible to discover these connections and exploit them to one’s advantage. These assumptions are best demonstrated in astrology, perhaps the most avidly pursued branch of learned magic. The premise of astrology is that heavenly bodies determine the fortunes of humans on earth. Through the study of the heavenly bodies it is therefore possible for an individual both to anticipate and to take advantage of the events that will occur in the future. Astrology was a branch of learned magic that was widely practiced by medical personnel, since it was seen as bolstering the effectiveness of medicines and other types of cures that needed to be given at times when the stars’ positions were most propitious for healing. Learned forms of magic like astrology progressed through the detailed study of texts. Its practitioners started from the intellectual assumption that scholars in the ancient world had discovered most if not all of the hidden connections between things, and that the task of contemporary scholars was thus to rediscover what the ancients had already known. Beginning in the twelfth century a flow of magical treatises from ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, preserved through the centuries by Muslim scholars, had begun to make its way into Western Europe. The reception of these texts gave rise to a new sort of intellectual figure, the magus (the plural form being known as “magi”), or the master of ancient magical knowledge. The status of the magus was given a powerful boost by the Renaissance fascination with Platonism, which stressed the notion that things on earth were simply the signs for universal or higher heavenly forms that were beyond human comprehension. By the seventeenth century learned magic, like art and architecture, had gained patronage in many European courts and in the humanist circles in cities. Many of the first and second generations of thinkers we associate today with the Scientific Revolution were influenced by Europe’s long traditions of learned magical speculation. Alchemy was the branch of these endeavors that drew the greatest support from princely and wealthy patrons throughout the continent. Students of alchemy started from the premise that minerals, like everything else on earth, were living things grown from seeds, and that different types of minerals were simply variants of the same mineral at different stages in the life cycle. If cultivated to their mature forms in an environment free of pollutants, alchemists reasoned, minerals might take on their noblest character, a form that alchemists saw as the element gold. Thus the aims of learned magic like alchemy were to learn how nature might be manipulated and bent to one’s advantage, rather than to communicate with spirits to intercede in everyday problems.

Magic In Europe’s Villages

Accusations of witchcraft, by contrast, largely occurred in Europe’s villages, far from the rarefied discussions of learned magic that intellectuals conducted in courts and cities. The distinction between magic and witchcraft in the minds of early-modern villagers is hard for the modern mind to grasp. For them, magic attempted to access and to influence the supernatural world. As such, for all of the moralizing of the churchmen, it was widely perceived in village society as a force that was never completely evil. Witchcraft, on the other hand, was feared as the use of the supernatural to prey upon one’s neighbors, and was consequently the worst evil on earth. While plenty of individuals boasted of their ability to perform magic, no one admitted willingly to being a witch. Witchcraft was always imputed to individuals, and implicit in the charge was the idea that the witch was an “enemy of the human race,” scheming to wreak havoc upon individuals and communities. While most Europeans did not believe that the use of magic was, in and of itself, criminal, they were largely agreed that witchcraft was an evil that needed to be utterly extirpated. It was normal, in other words, for townspeople and villagers to hate each other and sometimes to rely on magic to try to get back at one another. A successful piece of black magic aimed at an enemy probably did not upset many villagers, but what early seventeenth-century people feared were unexplained, excessive acts of vengeance. Such acts were signs of an individual out to hurt others. Modern readers of witch trial materials are appalled by the ease with which medieval and early-modern European villagers identified, tortured, and burned one or two of their number as the source of everything that had recently gone wrong in their village. Modern people, however, miss the reasoning that ran behind these trials. For early-modern communities, witches were social predators. They were an evil besetting the land, an evil that needed to be rooted out so that health might be restored to the community. The evidence of these trials suggests that an image of the witch—usually someone who was marginal to the community at large and who was widely feared and hated—prevailed as a powerful stereotype that prompted accusations and persecutions at the local level.

The Diabolic Pact

When European villagers identified one of their own as a witch, their accusations were generally taken seriously by secular officials anxious to prosecute such charges. During the later Middle Ages the Inquisition, a formal office within the church charged with investigating heresy, had fed the persecution of witches by inspiring elaborate new theories of diabolism, that is, the science of demons. The Inquisition fashioned a view of witchcraft very different from that of village society. In place of the notion that witches were merely anti-social and predatory, the theories of witchcraft promoted by the Inquisition in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries taught that witches were those who had allied themselves with Satan and were now seeking to destroy Christian society. By the seventeenth century this notion of a diabolic pact had achieved a general acceptance, not only among many churchmen, but among state officials who now rejected the divide that existed in the popular mind between benign magic and maleficent witchcraft. For these learned elites, there was no neutral way to manipulate magic. All power over the supernatural world derived either from God or from Satan, and every human being who used magic thus entered into a pact with the devil. The terms of witches’ covenants with Satan demanded that they wage war against every aspect of Christian society. In the three centuries following 1400 C.E. an estimated 100,000 Europeans were tried, convicted, and put to death for the crime of witchcraft. The most vicious years of this persecution occurred in the century following 1550, that is, at the time when many secular officials became convinced, as had churchmen before them, of the Satanic nature of witchcraft and the dangers that it presented to their societies. Relying on elaborate theories of diabolism and witchcraft, secular and religious authorities persecuted witches in these years with increasing frequency, and the image of the witch as an ally of Satan came to traumatize the seventeenth-century world.

Nature of the Witch Hunt

The typical witchcraft trial was a local affair and was precipitated when one or several accusations against someone “everyone knew was a witch” were brought before secular officials. In questioning, secular judges began to ask these individuals to name their accomplices, and under torture, the accused often spewed forth as many names as were needed to bring their suffering to an end. Judges then issued writs to have those accused arrested and tortured. In this way the size, length, and geographic scope of the trials grew. The high tide of these persecutions was also a time of civil war and sectarian conflict, of bad harvests, and of economic privation across Europe. The anxieties these problems generated thus helped to feed the efforts of judges and officials, many of whom argued that the collective misfortunes of contemporary society might be traced to cells of witches. The panic took different shapes in different areas. Germany was infamous for “chain reaction” trials. Judges received a list of names from one individual, and these individuals, in turn, generated their own new lists of accused under torture. These individuals then named others. Such trials might go on for years, claiming hundreds of lives. In Ellwangen in the German southwest, for example, more than 400 people met their deaths this way in the years between 1611-1618. In Bamberg, the capital of a bishopric in central Germany, more than 300 were executed for witchcraft between 1624 and 1631. In France, a series of cases involved nuns who were accused of being possessed by Satan and of appearing in the forms of priests. The best known of these, which took place at the Ursuline monastery at Loudon during 1636, became the subject of a famous novel, The Devils of Loudon, by Aldous Huxley in the twentieth century. In England, the panic prompted towns and villages to seek the services of professional “witchfinders,” who traveled from place to place identifying witches for their neighbors to burn. Matthew Hopkins (d. 1647?) was the most famous of these. Sweden was the site for a relatively late (1660s-1670s) but notorious trial in which the testimony of children about a mythical place known as Blakulla led to the execution of hundreds of individuals. In Blakulla, the children were alleged to have seen their friends and their friends’ parents dancing and making merry with demons. In the midst of one of these panics, it was extremely dangerous to question the legitimacy of the threat. The assumption was that only a witch would try to dissuade the authorities from further interrogations. But when the accusations began to reach into the higher echelons of society, judges became a bit more scrupulous about the evidence they accepted to bring trials against those accused. As wives of mayors and other important officials came to be tarnished with accusations of practicing witchcraft, judges usually applied scrutiny to the evidence and in this way a particular witch-hunt ceased. In most places this process usually only took several weeks, and once a hunt had come to be discredited even those that had already been accused and condemned were often released.

The Decline of the Witch Trials

Witch trials continued through the 1670s, but by the 1680s they were beginning to be abandoned by royal governments throughout Europe. While recent historical research has emphasized the importance of the intellectual repudiation of witchcraft among governing elites, there is no consensus among historians about what caused this repudiation. Four interrelated changes in beliefs, however, clearly contributed. First, by the second half of the seventeenth century, the doom and gloom that had contributed to social anxiety and panic during the first half of the century had given way to intellectual optimism. Intellectuals began to express faith in the human ability to understand and control nature. In part this newfound faith was based on scientific breakthroughs such as Newton’s discovery of the law of gravity, but it also arose from the technological and economic advances of the time that were then making Europe into the most prosperous region on earth. The results of this optimism were a turning away from the fear that had gripped governments and communities concerning the imminence of Satan’s rule over the earth. Second, there was a general and growing skepticism on the part of many thinking people about the existence of any sort of supernatural world, heaven and hell included. During the 1680s some writers like Joseph Glanvill (1636-1680) made vain attempts to try to keep the belief in witches and demons alive. In his Sadducismus Triumphatus he warned that a Christian could not give up the belief in magic and witchcraft without relinquishing faith in God. But such arguments were increasingly out-of-date in a world in which intellectuals were looking with suspicion upon the traditional notion that an invisible or supernatural plane of existence intersected with the earthly world in which human beings lived. Third, the Christian churches throughout Europe began to alter their ideas concerning witchcraft. Over the course of the seventeenth century a number of Protestant and Catholic churchmen dismissed the reality of witchcraft and the theory of a satanic conspiracy. This skepticism grew over time, even as an increasing number of church leaders throughout Europe called attention to the deceit, greed, and corruption of the trials and to the fact that many innocent people were being put to death by false accusations. A fourth shift in belief was the turn by governments toward secularism. By the 1660s, there was a growing reluctance on the part of authorities to embrace any explanation of social and political problems built upon religious beliefs. No longer did governments accept that famine or the plague was a reflection of God’s wrath or the devil’s ambitions. Instead, officials now assumed that there was a rational explanation for every problem and that these causes might be solved with rational solutions. So the response to famine, they argued, should be the importation of grain, while the appropriate response to plague was quarantine. The elite abandonment of belief in the reality of witchcraft was not mirrored within the popular classes. Rural communities continued to seek relief from social anxieties by identifying and burning witches, but when they made accusations, villagers found their initiatives blocked by government authorities that now cast a skeptical eye on such prosecutions. Thus, by the eighteenth century belief in magic and witchcraft had become one of the boundaries that distinguished high and low culture in Europe. Intellectuals now mocked folk culture for its belief in witches, demons, and spirits, beliefs that had once been shared by learned and unlearned alike. The rich and luxuriant spiritual world of Europe that had given rise to the witch trials’ blood-letting became reflective of an older archaic world of superstitious belief.



The transformation of churches into departments of state affected the religious experiences these institutions offered. The standardization of liturgy, the use of worship time for government business, the preoccupation of clergy with the services demanded of them by the state all contributed to emptying devotional activities of most of their enthusiasm and passion. This development was especially pronounced in the state churches of Lutheran Germany. Luther’s idea of a church composed of a priesthood of all believers evolved into a collection of churches where the divisions between clergy and lay were almost as rigid as those in Catholicism. Medieval parish clergy had been noteworthy for their low level of education and lack of pastoral formation. To address this problem Luther (as did other Protestant and Catholic reformers) mandated that Lutheran clergy be trained in seminaries. Seminary training improved the educational level of the Lutheran clergy, but pastoral formation remained a problem. Parish clergy saw themselves as officeholders, and their main preoccupation was grabbing a bigger office, which in this case meant larger and more lucrative parishes. Education became identified in this way as the avenue to preferment: clergymen seeking to climb the ladder of success through theological treatises and published sermons. These pieces of writing could go to bizarre lengths in their efforts to show erudition; one sermon from the mid-seventeenth century focused on the biblical injunctions to keep one’s hair neat and groomed. For lay parishioners, church life in this world was a weekly formality offering little spiritual reward. Church buildings were closed except for during times of public worship, and there simply was no idea of Christian outreach, that is, spiritual counseling and evangelism. The one outlet for emotional expression was hymn singing, and one measure of the Christian hunger for soul-satisfying religion was the growth in the size of hymnals across the seventeenth century. For example, the Dresden hymnal of 1622 had 276 hymns, while that of 1673 had 1,505; the Lüneberg hymnal of 1635 had 355 hymns, while that of 1695 had 2,055. Hymnals grew so large because their publishing was outside of the control of the clergy, thus hymn singing was free to reflect lay taste and sensibilities. The same dynamics were at work with devotional literature. While clergymen busied themselves writing arid tomes, publishers busied themselves translating and publishing devotional literature from elsewhere, especially Puritan England.


The most influential devotional work, however, was homegrown. Over the period 1605-1609, Johann Arndt, a controversial minister who spent his career moving from church to church, published his four-volume work, True Christianity. In much the same way that Saint-Cyran would call early modern Catholics back to a medieval ideal of the Christian penitent, so Arndt called early-modern Lutherans back to a medieval ideal of the Christian mystic. Arndt put an emphasis on the Christian life lived outside and beyond the parish church. His volumes were uneven collections of excerpts from the great mystics of the past, the excerpts chosen to show contemporary Christians they might recover the warmth and spirituality missing in church life through meditation. Arndt’s writings generated much condemnation from Lutheran church officials, yet they were a popular success; between 1605 and 1740 there were 95 German editions of his work, as well as published translations in Bohemian, Dutch, Swedish, and Latin.


Arndt’s writings supported the development of an alternate religious experience to that taking place in the parish church. Phillip Jakob Spener (1635-1705) took Arndt’s ideas and transformed them into the spiritual foundation for church reform. Spener’s most important writing was his Pia Desideria or Pious Desires (1675), an outline for church reform he originally published as a preface to a posthumous edition of some of Arndt’s sermons. In the Pia DesideriaSpener reinforced Arndt’s emphasis on the importance of meditation to devotion, but he indicted government officials and clergymen for their soulless management of the church. In particular, he called attention to the clergy’s trend for self-aggrandizement at the expense of their flocks. He enjoined the laity to take the promotion of faith into its own hands. Spener looked back to Luther’s original message and identified in it the still unachieved demand of the Reformation for a “priesthood of all believers.” Spener understood Luther’s idea, in other words, to be a call for Christian evangelism that might emerge from the Lutheran laity and be directed at fellow Lutherans. Even before the publication of the Pia Desideria, Spener was putting his ideas into practice. In 1666, he was awarded a major position in the Lutheran church in the city of Frankfurt, and by 1669 he had begun to exhort Lutherans at Frankfurt to replace their Sunday afternoons of drinking and card playing with Arndt-inspired discussions of devotional ideas. The next year a group of laymen in the city took up his challenge, approaching Spener and asking him to direct their weekly meetings of meditation and Christian fellowship. He agreed and thus was born the collegia pietatis or “schools of piety” that became the signature of Spener’s movement for church reform. Conceived of as ecclesiolae in ecclesia, or “little churches inside the church,” these meetings, or conventicles as they were labeled in contemporary discourse, were to become the building blocks of Pietism’s church life. Participants found in them both the spiritual direction and rewards that they sensed were lacking in official church activities. Participants in the collegia pietatis soon became known as Pietists, and it was from them that the movement took its name. While class meetings were an immediate success among the Lutheran laity, these organizations and Spener soon became the objects of censure from the church establishment. Spener was accused of using class meetings to spread Donatism, an ancient heretical belief that taught that the state of a clergyman’s soul determined the purity of the services he performed. In truth, many class meetings did in their enthusiasm come to condemn the laxity and lack of zeal of many of the clergy, a fact from which the charge of Donatism arose. To counter these tendencies, Spener wrote several treatises supporting the clerical establishment. They had little effect, however, and, tired of the debate and controversy, in 1686 Spener accepted a position to serve as court chaplain for the elector of Saxony. The move only brought more conflict and opposition. Spener chastised the elector for public drunkenness publicly from his pulpit, a move to which the elector took exception. More important, Spener’s presence in Saxony prompted students at the University of Leipzig, the local university, to revolt against their professors and to go out into the city where they set up class meetings among workers and ordinary citizens. These actions motivated the clerical establishment in Saxony to suppress Spener’s movement. By 1691, though, the elector of Brandenburg invited Spener to his new capital city of Berlin. At the time the elector was eager to compete for spiritual leadership of the Lutheran church against Saxony, long home to the religion’s most important educational institutions. To cement his claim to leadership, the elector of Brandenburg had recently founded a new university at Halle, and he asked Spener to join the theological faculty. The Pietist spent the rest of his life at Halle, making it the center of the Pietist movement in Germany.


Just as Spener translated Arndt’s devotional ideals into a program for church reform, so August Hermann Francke (1663-1727) turned Spener’s program for church reform into an institutional reality. Francke had been one of the leaders of the student revolt at the University of Leipzig, the event that had helped to precipitate Spener’s leaving Saxony. Leipzig, like other Lutheran universities of the time, focused its theological curriculum on the study of Aristotle, rather than on training in the Bible. In the years in which Spener had been in Leipzig, he encouraged the establishment of aCollegium philobiblicum at Leipzig. The Collegium was essentially a bible study movement in which older students helped younger ones to make up the deficiencies in their knowledge of the Bible. Francke turned this movement into a protest against the university’s concentration on Aristotle, convincing 300 students to sell their philosophy texts and turn instead to the study of the apostle Paul. While still a student, Francke visited Spener and during one of these visits he underwent a conversion experience to Pietism. After Spener settled at the University of Halle, he arranged for Francke to join the faculty. Francke’s realization of Spener’s reform program did not alter the institutional structure of the Lutheran church as much as demonstrate how good works—that is, charity—could be effectively added to Lutheran devotional life. While serving as a faculty member, Francke simultaneously served as a pastor at a nearby church. Based upon his working sense of the real needs of a congregation, he sought to equip future ministers with the pastoral skills needed to bring about spiritual renewal both in themselves and their parishioners. His teaching, while important, paled in significance compared to his charity work. At Halle, Francke developed a host of institutions that revolutionized the Lutheran approach to social services. He erected a three-tiered school system: the first tier being a free school popularly known as the “ragged school” for the children of the poor, the second tier being a day school for the fee-paying children of local bourgeoisie, and the third tier being an exclusive boarding school for the children of the Brandenburg nobility. On top of this, Francke maintained an orphanage. At the time of Francke’s death in 1727, there were 2,200 students in the three schools and 134 children in the orphanage. In addition to the schools, Francke established teacher-training courses aimed at providing teachers for the countryside. He also founded a Bible Institute for the production and publication of inexpensive editions of the scriptures. To pay for his many enterprises, Francke developed a network of donors and supporters that stretched across Protestant Europe, and even into the German communities in the New World. And to these charitable donations he added the profits from his pioneering marketing of bottled medicines produced in his institute’s dispensary. Francke’s efforts at Christian outreach did not stop with German Lutherans. He provided and trained the first Lutheran missionaries to be sent to India, and during the eighteenth century, Halle sent some sixty missionaries to Asia. Francke’s enterprises at Halle represented the high water-mark of Pietism as a reform movement within German Lutheranism.


Francke gave concrete expression to the Lutheran desire for faith to mean more than just church attendance, but at the same time, the movement was notable in that it did not challenge the position or authority of the state church. For all the complaints of the Lutheran establishment, Pietists never sought to create another church or replace the existing one, even though the Lutheran church’s structure remained an obstacle to the Pietist celebration of the Christian spirit. In the next stage of its development under the direction of Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf (1700-1760), Pietism broke free of this restraint. Zinzendorf was among the students who studied at the Paedagogium, Francke’s school for the offspring of the nobility. The school prepared students for government service, and, like his classmates, Zinzendorf had originally secured government employment following graduation. During his studies at Halle the nobleman had been struck by Pietism’s religious message, and when he inherited family estates, he left government service to follow his religious calling. Soon Zinzendorf allowed religious refugees to settle on his lands. The most important of these refugees were members of the Unitas Fratum, or “Brethren of the Unity,” a Bohemian religious group that traced its ancestry back to the fifteenth-century religious leader and heretic John Hus (1369-1415), but which also had a significant number of German-speaking adherents. In the wake of the re-catholicization of Bohemia that occurred during the Thirty Years’ War, the Unitas Fratum was declared a heretical movement. The group faced intense persecution, barely surviving as an underground movement. Once granted lands on Zinzendorf’s estates, however, the Unitas Fratum prospered again, attracting members. Most of these members were German speakers from Moravia, thus the group also became known as the Moravian church or the Moravian Brethren. Zinzendorf found himself progressively drawn into the affairs of the Moravians. At Herrnhut, the center of their German community on Zinzendorf’s lands, the Moravians began to push for the establishment of a separate Moravian church. Zinzendorf, however, was determined to keep them within the limits of Lutheran orthodoxy, insisting that structures such as class meetings allowed the Moravians the freedom to seek the emotional experiences they found lacking in Lutheranism. Zinzendorf also sought to channel the energies of the Moravians in the direction of missions, and Moravian evangelists were sent out on missions as far away as the West Indies, Greenland, and Georgia in North America. Zinzendorf’s efforts, though, did not placate the Moravians, who continued to petition government authorities for recognition as a separate church. Yet the innovative ways in which Zinzendorf made use of small groups or conventicles to allow for the expression of “heart religion” appealed to many Protestants, who began to flock to Moravian circles. In Germany, Lutheran state churches were now threatened by the Moravians’ rapid rise in popularity, and officials complained to their governments. Austria, which controlled the territories from whence most of the Moravians had migrated, likewise complained to the government in Saxony, where Herrnhut was located. In 1736 the Saxon government banished Zinzendorf from his lands, and he began a period of wandering during which he traveled through Europe and North America, preaching and establishing Moravian communities. His banishment was rescinded in 1747, but bankrupt from the costs associated with maintaining the Moravian church, Zinzendorf spent most of his remaining years preaching and writing abroad, primarily in England, where he lived from 1749-1755. Zinzendorf returned to Herrnhut in 1755, and died there five years later. Meanwhile the efforts on the part of the Moravians to have themselves recognized as a separate church bore fruit. In 1742 the government of Prussia granted their Moravian church full autonomy. In 1749, the English Parliament recognized the Moravian church as “an ancient Protestant Episcopal church.” But in Saxony, the original German heartland of the movement, the Moravians had to be content to accept the Lutheran Augsburg Confession, in exchange for which they became a separate wing of the state church.

John Wesley

It took more than a century for the tension between enthusiasm and orthodoxy in German Lutheranism to give rise to a new church. In England a similar tension existed within the Anglican church, and thanks to the spark provided by the Moravians, it took only a few generations for the tensions between Pietism and religious orthodoxy to produce a new kind of church in England. The key figure in the establishment of the Methodist Church in England was John Wesley (1703-1791), who underwent a profound conversion experience in 1738 as a result of his contact with Moravian missionaries. Even before this time, Wesley had been actively preaching the gospel, but it was only after his conversion that he preached a message others seemed eager to follow. Wesley had been born the son of an Anglican priest, and both he and his brother Charles had attended Oxford with the intention of following in their father’s footsteps. While at Oxford the Wesleys established a little organization known as the “Holy Club” which, like the Pietist class meetings Wesley would later admire and emulate, provided a vehicle for small groups to share spiritual experiences. Members of the Holy Club were roundly ridiculed by their contemporaries at Oxford, who called them “Methodists,” a term of derision. Out of frustration in 1735 the Wesleys left to serve as missionaries in Georgia. Their efforts in Georgia were an embarrassing failure, but their tour was significant in that they made contact with the Moravians. Back in London in 1738, the Wesleys discovered a new direction for their ministry, again through the example and influence of the Moravians. As he recorded in his diary, it was while attending a Moravian meeting that John felt his heart “strangely warmed” and knew that he had found the message he would preach for the rest of his days. The Wesleys were sufficiently moved by their experiences with the Moravians that they contemplated joining the Brethren. A trip to Germany to meet Zinzendorf, however, convinced them of the need to create their own movement. Still, the Wesleys adapted from the Moravians the key Pietist precepts that Christian devotions are best experienced in small groups and that these devotions must produce an emotional transformation within the Christian. Preaching this message in England was not easy. The Anglican establishment was no friendlier to Pietism than the Lutheran state churches had been in Germany. John Wesley went from parish church to parish church, requesting permission to preach before the congregation. Again and again he was turned down. Soon Wesley adopted the expedient of preaching, not in churches, but in open fields and town halls. Here he excelled, sometimes drawing thousands of listeners to his sermons, although the crowds were not always friendly; rocks and stones were sometimes thrown at his head. But most of his audiences were emotionally engaged, and the sense that Christianity could be about feelings, could be about emotions, gradually came to be accepted within English Protestantism. John Wesley cannot be granted sole credit for introducing the idea of the outdoor revival as a forum of Christian devotion in England. Credit for this development has to be shared with his good friend and competitor George Whitefield (1714-1770). Wesley and Whitefield met during their student days, when Whitefield joined the “Holy Club.” Theological differences forced the two men to go their separate ways; Whitefield was a Calvinist, while Wesley was an Arminian. Whitefield is generally credited with being the greatest English preacher of his time, though few of his sermons have survived. Still, his open-air preaching, in tandem with that of Wesley, revolutionized Christian worship in England, providing thousands with a spiritually satisfying alternative to the dry formalism of parish devotional life.


John Wesley took the insights of the Pietists and applied them to the development of his movement. In his preaching and ministry Wesley targeted the poor and working classes—groups to his mind ignored by the Church of England. Raised by an Anglican priest to be an Anglican priest, Wesley’s intention was to stay within the Church of England. With this ambition in mind, Wesley adapted the institution of the class meeting, which he relabeled the “band,” to the tasks associated with evangelizing the poor and working classes within the context of the Anglican church. For Wesley, Christian salvation was the result of an active embrace of the obligations of faith and devotion. The duty of the “band” was to oversee the actions of church members to make sure that they fulfilled those obligations. Wesley issued “tickets” to church members that granted them three months of access to church services and activities. Every three months the actions and behavior of each member was assessed, and the tickets could be revoked for such things as swearing, fighting, drunkenness, and wife beating. Wesley went further and made these conventicles, or small group meetings, into the vehicle for positive development. To discipline church members to what was for many of them the new experience of participation in church upkeep, Wesley divided members into “classes” of twelve under a “class leader.” Each member of a class was expected to put a penny each week toward church maintenance, the class leader being in charge of collection. Few members of the Anglican clergy followed Wesley out into the field. Thus in the beginning Wesley’s movement suffered from a lack of ordained clergy. Wesley treated this dearth as an opportunity, opening up to lay people many positions reserved in the Anglican church for clerics. Laymen did much of the preaching that took place in the context of the “bands.” Laymen were similarly called upon to serve as “stewards” to take care of church property, teachers in Methodists schools, and visitors of the sick. To supervise his growing movement, Wesley initially made the rounds by visiting each group in turn. When the movement grew too large for this, he established annual “Conferences” at which first preachers, and then other lay officials, met to discuss issues of church governance. To address the need for central direction, Wesley divided the local churches into “circuits” over which traveling preachers had jurisdiction. Later, superintendents were placed over the circuits. To educate lay officials to both the duties of their offices and the expectations of them as Christians, Wesley took another page from the German Pietist book, sponsoring the writing and publication of devotional literature developed specifically for his people. As much as possible Wesley sought to use the Anglican liturgy in his church services though, again reflecting the Pietist influence, he left space in his services for spontaneous outpourings of faith. Methodist church services also made extensive use of hymns; over the course of his career as his brother’s right-hand man, Charles Wesley wrote almost 8,000 of them. Though the Anglican establishment constantly rebuffed his movement, John Wesley was determined to keep his groups within the confines of the Church of England. Still, when confronted with the reality of Anglican opposition, Wesley affirmed the independence of his movement. In 1784, after the conclusion of the American War of Independence, there was a need for Methodist ministers in North America. Wesley asked the bishop of London to ordain them. The bishop refused. Wesley was not a bishop and had no authority to ordain; yet in this instance he presumed the right to ordain the men in question, thus cementing Methodism’s increasing independence from Anglicanism. Wesley died in 1791, and only four years later the Methodist movement had broken free of the Church of England and established itself as a separate church.

Christianity, Science, and the Enlightenment

The Scientific Revolution

The seventeenth century was the moment when opposition to Christianity’s cultural authority came to be located, not so much among scientists, but among intellectuals who championed science as an alternative to Christianity. Here “science” must be understood broadly as the new knowledge that resulted from scientific investigation, from technological advance, and from the empirical collection of data about new peoples and places. For anti-Christian intellectuals, science, technology, and empiricism (the observation and charting of the causes of natural phenomena) proved the Bible’s inadequacy to explain the world and confirmed that Christian intellectuals were disconnected from reality. The jabs of these intellectuals, however, did only minor injury to the Christian cause. It was church authorities that held Christianity up to ridicule by persecuting those scientists whose ideas they perceived as a threat and by insisting that the new science was a challenge to Christian authority. Many scientists—Galileo and Newton for example—remained practicing Christians. At the same time, many church authorities condemned science as heresy. The most spectacular demonstration of this process was the decision by the Catholic church to condemn the heliocentric theory, the theory that the earth and planets revolve around the sun. The Catholic church justified this decision with the argument that the Bible taught that the Lord had made the sun stop in the sky. Thus Christian orthodoxy necessarily had to affirm the geocentric argument, the theory that the sun and planets revolve around the earth. It was from this position that the Catholic church rationalized the conviction of the aged scientist Galileo (1564-1642) for heresy. Galileo was forced to recant his scientific findings and to proclaim publicly that the earth in fact remains stationary while the skies revolve around it. And yet, as Galileo is reported to have muttered under his breath after his public humiliation, “the earth does move.” The trial of Galileo did not stop scientific investigation, but it did embarrass Christian intellectuals. The irony is that a good many Christian intellectuals actually embraced the new knowledge and sought to celebrate science as proof of the truth of Christianity. Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, had insisted upon seeing the world as a “mirror” of God’s greatness. The sort of arguments that began to appear in the seventeenth century emerged from the same inspiration, but went in a different direction. Fixated on the mathematical and mechanical attributes of the world that was revealed in scientific investigation, Christian writers insisted that the symmetry and the efficiency of Nature could not be coincidental; these things must be the designs of a divine hand. Thus everything from the webs of spiders to the law of gravity to human emotions was argued to be evidence for the existence of the Christian God. The intellectuals that promoted these sensibilities, though, rarely advanced into the upper echelons of Europe’s state churches. Instead most of the men chosen to lead these institutions had an animus against science and they asserted that faith transcended scientific reality. As such, during the age of the Baroque and Enlightenment, Christianity never made its peace with science.

Deism in England

In England, one group of Christian thinkers took the rationality of Nature as more than just evidence of the existence of the Christian deity; they took it as an indication of the character of the deity as well. Rejecting the image of the Christian god as an entity who constantly intervened in the natural world to reward his followers and punish his detractors, these thinkers celebrated an idea of the deity who was content to let the world He put in place operate according to the principles He had established. These Deists, as opponents labeled them, did not embrace a uniform set of beliefs. What united Deists were the targets of their attacks. Deists rejected the possibility of miracles, since miracles involved the suspension of the laws of nature and God himself had established the laws of nature, and therefore, would not suspend them. Secondly, Deists took aim at the clergy, whom they indicted for fostering superstitions as religion. For Deists, churchmen were little better than shamans; both groups hoodwinked a gullible public with lies about their ability to manipulate the supernatural, a concept they insisted did not exist since the entire natural order was subjected to the laws the Deity had established at Creation. Most Deists advocated morality as religion’s most positive force. Living right and doing unto others as you would have them do unto you were the commandments Deists recognized as coming from God. In England, the great age of Deist thought occurred during the later years of the seventeenth century and the early years of the eighteenth when, in the relatively free climate created by the ascension of William and Mary and the passage of the Act of Toleration, Deists could publish their views with the anticipation that they were to spark controversy, but not excite government censure.

Major Deists

Of the many thinkers during Deism’s great age, five are worthy of note. John Toland (1670-1722) was the first Deist to attract public notice. In his Christianity Not Mysterious (1696) Toland argued that whatever is “repugnant” to the human mind as irrational should not be believed. He had in mind the many miracles that had traditionally been used to justify and support Christianity. Anthony Ashley Cooper (1671-1713), the Third Earl of Shaftesbury, did not consider himself a Deist, yet his work was most closely identified with the term by thinkers on the continent. Shaftesbury’s work went in the opposite direction from the work of most Deists, away from challenging the “superstitions” manufactured by “priests” toward identifying the actions implied in living a moral religious life. Still, in his Letter Concerning Enthusiasm (1708) Shaftesbury found occasion to lambaste any and all forms of religious fervor as blasphemous. In hisScripture Doctrine of the Trinity (1712) Samuel Clarke, who was chaplain to Queen Anne, demonstrated that the doctrine of the Trinity could not be found in the New Testament. For his efforts, a conventicle of the Anglican clergy forced a public apology from him. Anthony Collins (1676-1729) set his sights on disproving the “forgeries” of the clergy. In An Historical and Critical Essay on the Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England (1724) he set out to invalidate the Church of England’s claim of authority to resolve issues of faith. In A Discourse on the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion, written in the same year, he worked out a chronology to demonstrate that Jesus could not have been the Messiah of the Old Testament prophecies. The final Deist figure that made a major mark on the religious ideas of the eighteenth century was Matthew Tindal (1653(?)-1733), who published a book in 1733 that has since become known as the Deist “Bible.” The work, Christianity as Old as the Creation, or the Gospel a Republication of the Religion of Nature rejected the notion of Christianity as a “revealed” religion. All that was right and moral in Christianity, Tindal argued, might be reasoned from the laws of nature without recourse to Scripture and the fabulous stories it contained.

The Spread of Deism

Deism in England has been pictured as a thinking man’s recreation. It emerged simultaneously with the rise of the coffeehouse, where Englishmen frequently met to converse, smoke, and consume enormous amounts of the exotic new brew. Deist writers thus wrote in a style that was accessible and appealing to the coffeehouse crowd. Deism was not an organized force, but an amorphous and sometimes stylish philosophical and religious preoccupation of the time, but one that Orthodox churchmen in England took quite seriously and which they frequently decried. Tindal’s Christianity as Old as the Creation, for example, prompted more than 150 learned rebuttals. Of the many Orthodox responses to Deism that appeared at the time, the most important was that of the Anglican Bishop Joseph Butler (1692-1752), who in The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature (1736) pointed out that Nature, which the Deists characterized as the embodiment of rationality, was as full of irrationalities and ambiguities as the Scriptures and, like the Scriptures, required faith to be comprehended. More influential among intellectuals outside the church were the various arguments advanced by the philosopher David Hume (1711-1776). Hume understood a point that apparently escaped most of the Deists: that skepticism can be turned back upon the arguments of skeptics. Hume asserted, in other words, that there was no way to prove logically that Nature provided any necessary clues to the intent or character of its Creator. Following the theological wisdom of the day, Deists affirmed that the first religion of humankind had been monotheism, a natural creed that had been subverted and corrupted by the clergy. Hume countered such arguments by insisting that the first humans had been polytheistic, and by showing that the monotheism Deism celebrated was, in fact, a later corruption of primitive polytheism. As a result of these and other critiques, interest in Deism began to wane in England in the 1730s, and the successful attacks of Butler and Hume meant that the movement was not revived later in the eighteenth century. Yet while Deism’s importance declined to a position of relative insignificance in England, English Deist ideas sparked imitations that were more permanent in France and Germany. It is not surprising that continental thinkers imitated ideas that had been discarded in England. In that country churchmen had tried to use their influence with government to suppress the ideas of the movement, but to little avail, and secular-minded intellectuals in England had come to express their notions relatively free from clerical condemnation. Such relative freedom existed in France only later in the eighteenth century when the royal government relaxed its censorship. On the continent also, conservative Christian movements like Jansenism in France and Pietism in Germany guaranteed that secular-minded intellectuals had to develop some defense against the arguments of these movements’ enthusiasts, and Deism thus provided a welcome alternative to the emotionalism of Pietism or the austere religiosity of Jansenism. In France, thanks to the popularity of things English, major English Deist thinkers were translated into French and published. Many of the philosophes, the intellectuals of the French Enlightenment, identified themselves as Deists. The philosopher Voltaire characterized God as “the great geometrician, the architect of the universe, the prime mover.” And it was through these thinkers that American intellectuals like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson came to be exposed to Deist ideas. In the second half of the eighteenth century German Christians also assimilated and reproduced the by-then abandoned English ideas concerning the design of Nature as proof of God’s existence. But it was only late in the eighteenth century, and then cautiously, that they began to consider Deism’s others aims, such as the abolition of a doctrinal Christianity. In Germany, writers like Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) led this avant-garde movement. Lessing was the son of a Lutheran clergyman. During the years 1774-1778, he edited and published a selection of writings he entitled Fragments. These were excerpts from an “apology” for “rational worshippers of God”—a shorthand for Deists. Hermann Samuel Reimarus had originally written this defense of Deist principles, but he had been too fearful of persecution to publish his treatise while alive. The firestorm of criticism that Lessing’s publication of the Fragment signited validated Reimarus’ fears. To defend himself, Lessing wrote The Education of the Human Race between 1777 and 1780, a treatise in which he argued that it was now permissible for humankind to leave revealed religion behind and progress forward to a rational understanding of faith. Lessing’s most effective response to his critics, though, was his play Nathan the Wise (1779), a story that argued that the human pursuit of knowledge transcended religion.

Christianity and the Enlightenment

The Enlightenment as an intellectual movement was anti-Christian, but the nature and character of anti-Christian sentiment differed in different lands. The Enlightenment aimed to open up every aspect of life on earth to intellectual scrutiny and rational analysis. Taking the Scientific Revolution as an example of what the human mind could do when it applied itself, promoters of the Enlightenment promised that further dramatic discoveries were waiting to be made in the study of Nature and in the study of society, culture, and the arts. Enlightenment thinkers postulated an opposition between “religious” and “rational” modes of thought. Religious thought was superstitious and credulous. It was the darkness to which rationalism was the light. Texts by Enlightenment thinkers typically portrayed Christian churchmen as conservative and reactionary, and Christian churches as backward and intellectually stifling. Their attacks on religion were motivated by more than just a perspective that religious thinking violated human reason, however. Enlightenment thinkers were asserting that the nature of rational human knowledge was, in and of itself, different from that which Christian doctrine and theology had taught for centuries. The Enlightenment was a declaration of independence for secularism, a proclamation of self-emancipation for those who wanted to investigate any and all subjects, free from considerations of religious truth and without fear of clerical reprisals. For centuries, Christian theologians and officialdom had characterized knowledge according to whether it aided or hindered human salvation. The thinkers of the Enlightenment abandoned such judgments. For them, knowledge was to be judged good if it served to validate experiences and phenomena that had been observed in the real world. In the course of the eighteenth century the Enlightenment took different paths and moved in very different directions in various European regions. It is the French Enlightenment that is best known and studied, and it was a movement that was vehemently anti-clerical. France was also the only Catholic land in which the Enlightenment grew deep roots. The French Catholic clergy provided the philosophes with examples to ridicule and condemn. France was also the one state where atheists made a point of publicly rejecting their belief in the Christian God. According to a long-standing anecdote, David Hume came face-to-face with this unprecedented rejection of Christianity while serving as a member of the British diplomatic corps in Paris. One evening at a dinner party hosted by the Enlightenment philosophe Paul Henry Thiry, the Baron d’Holbach (1723-1789), Hume remarked that he had never met an atheist. The Baron lamented Hume’s bad luck, but then assured him that he was surrounded then by at least seventeen of them. The Deism of Voltaire, rather than the atheism of d’Holbach, is probably more reflective of the disposition of the French philosophes and their followers toward Christianity. Like Voltaire, most French who participated in the Enlightenment did not reject Christianity outright as much as they attacked the Catholic clergy and the cultural authority the church claimed. By contrast, Enlightenment thinkers in Britain had little to say on the subject of religion. Certainly David Hume made it the target of a good deal of his skeptical speculation. But the political economist Adam Smith was far more typical of the British Enlightenment, and Smith, as demonstrated in his classic, The Wealth of Nations, was concerned to identify the “natural” motivations for human behaviors. His focus, in other words, did not challenge alternative Christian explanations of human behaviors as much as ignore them. In Germany, the difficulties of thinkers like Lessing illustrate that one challenge of the Enlightenment in this region proved to be in getting any rationalist critique of Christianity into print. Yet it was in German-speaking Europe, more so than anywhere else in Continental Europe, that rulers looked to the works of Enlightenment thinkers popular elsewhere in Europe for hints at ways in which they might reform their state’s churches. Prompted by the critiques of clerical authority that were common in the works of thinkers like Voltaire, Frederick the Great of Prussia and Joseph II of Austria both moved to reform the churches in their lands according to Enlightenment principles.

Christianity in the Revolutionary Era

Christianity and Enlightened Despotism

Frederick the Great (r. 1740-1786) of Prussia and Joseph II (r. 1765-1790) of Austria were among Europe’s two most successful enlightened despots. They were rulers who applied the rationalistic and scientific approaches to their governments recommended by Enlightenment thinkers. Since the rise of the Enlightenment in the early eighteenth century, intellectuals had attacked the church as a bastion of privilege and irrational superstition. In both Prussia and Austria Frederick and Joseph pushed through reforms in the churches during the second half of the eighteenth century. Their attacks on the power and authority of the state church were not motivated by a desire to suppress Christianity, but to fit its practice into their rationalized schemes of government. By the second half of the eighteenth century most Protestant countries in Europe provided de facto forms of religious toleration, and although legal codes did not always recognize freedom of religion, minority faiths practiced their religion in these places relatively freely. England had led the way in this regard since it had allowed dissenting forms of Protestantism to flourish from the 1690s and had also provided a space for the expansion and evolution of Methodism. The migration of Irish Catholics into the country in the eighteenth century added a new dimension to England’s already pluralistic but mostly Protestant religious landscape, and the presence of Catholic workers in the country’s thriving industrial factories by the later eighteenth century prompted government officials to relax their persecution of Catholicism. In 1753, the English Parliament also passed a Jewish Naturalization Act, though popular anti-Semitism later forced its repeal. These kinds of measures were quickly imitated elsewhere in Europe. In Prussia, Frederick the Great went even further than the English, and in his revision of the Prussian legal code, the Allgemeine Landrecht, published a year after his death, Prussia granted legally recognized religious toleration to all subjects in the country. For the first time in the history of Europe, citizenship was separated from religious considerations. While Prussian innovations in this regard were great, it was in Joseph II’s Austria that the Enlightenment made its most spectacular mark. Since the grim days of the Thirty Years’ War, Habsburg policies in Central Europe had freely used force to convert Protestant subjects to Catholicism. In 1781 Joseph II reversed more than 150 years of policy and declared that while public worship was to remain an exclusive right of the Catholic church, Protestant minorities might now practice their faith privately. Joseph also considered issues that were of importance for traditional Catholicism, and the measures he fostered were intended to strengthen local religious practice. He created more than 500 new parishes throughout his lands to accommodate recent population growth. Like most rulers influenced by Enlightenment ideas, Joseph aimed to curtail monasticism, which by this time was seen by most intellectuals as a wasteful, even parasitical, occupation. Governments concluded that religious orders should be eliminated and their wealth dedicated to the sorts of social improvements recommended by Enlightenment thinkers. In France during the 1760s, a royal commission closed 426 religious houses. In Sicily, a number of monasteries stayed open only by honoring the government’s request that they provide free schooling for the poor. But Joseph II outdid these examples and closed between 700 and 750 monasteries in his lands. The enormous sum that the Crown netted from the sale of these institutions’ properties funded Joseph’s new parishes as well as new medical training facilities in Vienna. The Jesuit order suffered the most under these measures, since they had been singled out by many Enlightenment thinkers as the most manipulative of the Roman church’s many groups of clerics. Already in 1758, Portugal had begun to pressure the Papacy to suppress the order, and an ever-growing chorus from other Catholic governments joined the call for the Jesuit’s dissolution. In 1773, the Papacy surrendered to these demands and dissolved the Society of Jesus, the institution that had long played such a vital role in the missionizing efforts of Roman Catholicism. The Jesuits were to rise anew from this embarrassment several generations later, but never again was the order to play the key role in shaping political and governmental policies that it had in the early-modern world.

The French Revolution and Dechristianization

Eighteenth-century enlightened despots like Frederick the Great or Joseph II had sought only to reform their state churches along lines advocated by Enlightenment philosophers. But the revolutionaries who came to power in the years following the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 frequently tried to destroy the church altogether. The French revolutionaries, in particular, have often been accused of taking the rationalism of the Enlightenment to its logical conclusions. These political leaders were not trying to accomplish some pre-existing political agenda, but were caught in reacting to the moment. Like many of the events of the revolutionary years that followed 1789, they were carried away by the course of events. The same pressure of revolutionary events that prompted France’s revolutionaries to execute their king and queen also led them to disestablish the Catholic church. Several generations ago, historians coined the term “dechristianization” to describe the pervasive intellectual sentiments in France in the years leading up to the Revolution. Many scholars argued that there was a discernible decline in the practice of the Christian faith in these years among intellectuals. Unfortunately, the measures that were used to demonstrate this decline were problematic. Just as in England and other parts of the Continent, Christian sensibilities were changing in France on the eve of the French Revolution, but they were not disappearing. French Catholics, in fact, were not initially opposed to the Revolution, and members of the clergy formed the majority of delegates in the National Assembly, the revolutionary body that voted first to nationalize church lands and later to dissolve monasteries. But conflicts soon arose between the Revolution and Catholics concerning the Civil Constitution of 1790. This document made the church into a department of state, and significantly, required churchmen to swear an oath of loyalty to the new government as state employees. The papacy, however, refused to permit the clergy to swear the oath, and churchmen were thus forced to decide whether their loyalties lay with the Revolution or with Rome. About half of France’s clergy, including some initially sympathetic to the Revolution, refused to swear, and were soon persecuted as traitors. Devout Catholics soon rose to defend these “refractory” priests, creating an underground religious movement in France in which traditional Catholic rites were practiced in violation of the Revolution’s dictates. This underground became the nucleus of opposition to the new government and thus condemned Catholicism in the minds of many revolutionaries as a reactionary force. As the movement’s leaders saw it, the only way for France and the Revolution to go forward was to destroy any connection with the country’s Catholic past, and thus a decided policy of active dechristianization took shape. Catholicism was jettisoned as the official faith of the French Republic; the government appropriated and sold churches and their furnishings. And in one of the most curious moves, the Revolution’s leaders even abandoned the traditional Christian week and calendar. In 1793, “Year One” of the Revolution, the week was reorganized into ten days known as “decadi” and the months were given new revolutionary names. Even more important than these measures were the Revolution’s efforts to replace Christianity with the practice of a new Cult of Reason, a mixture of ideas and values drawn from science and history. To counter what he took to be the atheism implicit in this Cult of Reason, Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794), the leader of the Revolution at the time, commandeered Paris’ Cathedral of Notre Dame and staged an extraordinary ceremony during which he paid homage to a “Supreme Being,” a projection of his own Deist sensibilities. The Cult of the Supreme Being did not catch on, nor did the Cult of Reason, and Catholicism continued to be practiced in France, albeit out of public view, until the historic relationship between France and Rome was reestablished by Napoleon in 1801.

Toward the Future

The French Revolution’s spectacular attempts to escape the Christian past arose in part from the very controversial nature that the state church and its institutionalized religion had long played in early-modern Europe. While generally accepted and established as a force of state domination throughout Europe for most of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the state church was an institution that had never worn well on the sensibilities of many Europeans. As Europe had grown more religiously pluralistic in the course of these years, the established church had come to seem to both serious Christians and the religiously indifferent ever more like a relic of a distant past. But while France’s revolutionaries hoped to build a new state divorced from traditional religious considerations, their deism and atheism proved to be largely out-of-step with a nation that still revered Christian teaching. In the century that followed, Christianity made a dramatic resurgence, not only in France, but also throughout Europe. The new realities of this revival meant that religion was forced to compete, as were any of a number of ideologies, for the hearts and minds of Europeans. The traditional systems of compulsion, intolerance, and indoctrination that had held such force in the states of early-modern Europe were now to have little impact in a world in which Europeans were free to believe or disbelieve as they chose.