Sunday, March 05, 2006

Cuius regio, eius religio   posted by Razib @ 3/05/2006 02:15:00 PM

During the tumult between the Peace of Augsburg and the Peace of Westphalia cuius regio, eius religio was established as the law of the land, the religion of the ruler was the religion of the ruled. Of course, this was quickly breached, John Sigismund of the Hohenzollerns for example converted to Calvinism though his Prussian subjects remained Lutheran (his descendent Frederick the Great was personally an unbeliever in Christianity). In any case, a few years ago I read The Reformation by Diarmaid MacCulloch, a panoramic political and cultural history of the period, and one thing that the author explicitly stated was that elite political backing seemed to be close to a necessary condition for a long-lasting persistence of Protestantism. That is, the states in Germany where Protestantism survived the powerful rollback induced by the Catholic Reformation were invariably those where the prince was himself a Protestant. In England and Scandinavia Protestant monarchs drove their nations by fiat toward a break with the Roman Church. In places like France and Poland Protestantism declined as a force and never attained dominance in part because the ruling dynasties did not favor it.1

The past is not the present, but it is important to keep such details in mind when making analogies that draw upon history.

Addendum: Even though monarchial dissent from Roman domination might have been a necessary condition for the success of Protestantism in various nation-states, that does not imply it was a sufficient condition. Not only did certain groups remain Catholic (eg., the Irish, but Old English and Gaelic) under Protestant monarchs, but the disputes between kings and the Church are rather an old phenomenon (Alfred the Great and Henry II are famous examples). Changes after 1500, famously the printing press, were likely catalytic in converting the common tendency of monarchs to shelter dissidents and heretics (John Wyclif, Jan Hus) into a shattering of Western Christendom.

1 - Just as in England, in France and Poland Protestantism did have somewhat of an upwardly mobile or elite appeal. A disproportionate number of the wealthy and nobility converted, but nevertheless their lack of success in securing the full backing of the pinnacle of political power seems to have been fatal in the long run.