At the beginning, it was all so simple. There were Lutherans, and there were Catholics, a simple binary opposition that shaped most aspects of religious life in Germany. The Council of Trent, the Catholic church's response to the Reformation, engaged seriously with Lutheran theory and practice at many points during the late 1540s; interestingly, scant attention was paid to the other form of Protestantism then consolidating itself in Europe. But once Calvin's vision of Christianity expanded beyond its original geographical limits in the 1560s and became a serious presence in Germany, the Netherlands, and France, things began to change.
The terms "confessionalization" and "the Second Reformation" are widely used to refer to the new religious situation in Germany in the 1560s and 1570s. Confessionalization is best seen as interlocking religious beliefs and practices with the objectives of the state. Central to this process was the notion of a territorial religion based on an authorized declaration of doctrines (usually referred to as a "Confession"), which would be binding on all subjects and enforced by an established church accountable to the prince or the magistrates.32 This led to growing demand for a legally defined and enforceable system of beliefs and practices.
During this period, forms of Protestantism emerged that were largely defined by the social conditions of this part of Europe at this specific time.33 The emergence of "state churches," defined by confessional documents, led to greater social cohesion and, in the opinion of many, the emergence of the early modern absolute state. In many ways, this can be seen as a redevelopment of the medieval idea of Christendom, now implemented at the regional, rather than continental, level. Each region was a Christendom governed by its own particular understanding of Christianity.
Many religious beliefs and practices that earlier had been considered "matters of indifference" (adiaphora) were now treated as criteria of demarcation between the emerging Protestant confessional churches. The need to distinguish the two confessional churches of the age—Luther-anism and Calvinism—led to a quest for differences; once identified, these differences were given an emphasis that reflected a need for social demarcation. The result was that differences in theology, liturgy, or church government became explicitly politicized as the early modern state sought to impose greater social control within its sphere of influence.
By the 1590s, there seemed little doubt as to which of the two major forms of Protestantism was gaining the ascendancy in western Europe. By 1591, Calvinism seemed to have made irreversible gains throughout Europe. The German Calvinist Abraham Scultetus (1566-1624) wrote in near-ecstatic terms of the sense of achievement, even of destiny (which Calvinist writers tended to speak of in terms of divine providence), which pervaded the movement at this time:
I cannot fail to recall the optimistic mood which I and many others felt when we considered the condition of the Reformed churches in 1591. In France there ruled the valiant King Henri IV, in England the mighty Queen Elizabeth, in Scotland the learned King James, in the Palatinate the bold hero John Casimir, in
Saxony the courageous and powerful Elector Christian I, in Hesse the clever and prudent Landgrave William, who were all inclined to the Reformed religion. In the Netherlands everything went as Prince Maurice of Orange wished, when he took Breda, Zutphen, Hulst and Nijmegen We imagined that aureum seculum, a golden age, had dawned.34
Yet the process also affected issues of doctrine. The rise of Calvin's vision of Protestantism forced Lutheranism to define and defend itself against two rivals instead of its traditional single opponent—Catholicism. Both Lutheran and Reformed communities now defined themselves by explicit and extensive doctrinal formulations. This can be seen as the inevitable outcome of a quest for self-definition on the part of two ecclesial bodies within the same geographical region, both claiming to be legitimate outcomes of the Reformation. At the social and political level, the communities were difficult to distinguish; doctrine therefore provided the most reliable means by which they might define themselves over and against one another. The notion of a core concept of "Protestantism," with two major branches, became difficult to sustain given the embittered hostility between the two factions and their open competition for territory and influence.
Perhaps more importantly, given the central role of the Bible for Protestantism, this new trend meant that the Bible tended to be read through the prism of "confessions"—statements of faith that frequently influenced, and sometimes determined, how certain passages of the Bible were to be interpreted. This shift was a contributing factor to the rise of "proof-texting": citing isolated, decontextualized verses of the Bible in support of often controversial confessional positions. Paradoxically, this development actually lessened the influence of the Bible within Protestantism, in that biblical statements were accommodated to existing doctrinal frameworks rather than being allowed to determine them, and even to challenge them.
As a result, pressure grew to avoid confusion by finding ways to distinguish clearly between the two forms of Protestantism. As the intellectual warfare between Lutheran and Calvinist polemicists intensified, two areas of doctrine emerged as potentially reliable demarcators: the doctrine of predestination and the concept of the "real presence." In each case, there was a clear distinction between the Lutheran and Calvinist positions.
The emergence of state churches was a response to the situation in Germany in the 1570s. Whatever the benefits of such institutions, a link was created between the church and power that would prove problematic in years to come. Protestant churches were now part of the establishment, with vested interests that might easily compromise their integrity. State churches may well have helped achieve political and social stability in the short term; in the longer term, however, they created the conditions for wars of religion, precisely on account of the interconnection of religion and natural identity, the church and the state. Theology now became a matter of political importance in that a link had been forged between theological beliefs and the state.
A further consequence of this development should be noted. When Protestant communities began to emigrate from Europe to North America, they carried with them certain apparently self-evident assumptions about how churches relate to the community at large. These assumptions, however, had been molded by forces specific to sixteenth-century Europe. The result, as we shall see later, was that American Protestantism tended to replicate the structures and habits of its European context, despite the very different social context in which it now found itself.
Having considered the three forms of Protestantism traditionally termed Lutheranism, Calvinism, and Anabaptism, we now turn to consider the emergence of another, quite distinct vision of Protestantism in England.
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