Religion and secularization
‘secularization’, which had usually been linked with ‘modernization’. The nineteenth century saw a continuous conflict (and sometimes attempts at reconciliation) between the forces of religion and those of ‘modernity’.
‘Throne and altar’: post Napoleonic Europe
In the early nineteenth century Enlightenment rationalism was challenged by a revitalized Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, which was a reaction to the French Revolution’s attack on the churches and the Christian religion. During the Napoleonic Wars, church property had been confiscated. In 1809 the Papal States were annexed and in 1812 the Pope was kidnapped and lodged in the château of Fontainebleau. Some former radicals like Wordsworth and Coleridge became strong supporters of the Church of England. In 1798 the French Romantic writer François-René de Chateaubriand was converted to the Catholicism of his childhood and defended Christianity in his La Génie du Christianisme (1802).
But at the same time anti-clericals and religious dissidents attacked the idea of a monopoly state religion. Napoleon’s Concordat of 1801 had recognized Catholicism as ‘the religion of the majority of Frenchmen’ rather than the religion of the state. The minority Protestant Church was allowed full legal privileges. In 1810 the Rome ghetto was thrown open. In Britain a parliamentary attempt in 1811 to restrict the privileges of Protestant Dissenters was blocked by a concerted campaign. Although religious toleration was not universal, the temper of the times was in favour of pluralism.
The views of the counter-Revolution were expressed by Joseph de Maistre, who asserted in 1797 that the Revolution had been a satanic conspiracy, but that it was also divine retribution for the sins of humanity. The same argument was put by the Spanish clergy in the War of Liberation.
The restoration of monarchies in 1814-15 heralded a wave of persecution of minorities deemed to be associated with revolution. Jews in Prussia were deprived of their rights. Ghettoes were reconstituted in many parts of Europe. In 1814 the Inquisition was brought back to Spain. In Catholic Europe religious congregations took over schools.
The Catholic Church in France embarked on a mission to rebuild its structures and authority. Missions were preached in towns, and new congregations of nuns were set up. In reaction, the July monarchy reduced the influence of the Church in education and removed bishops from the Chamber of Peers.
Religion was also a powerful force in post-Napoleonic Prussia. The situation in the Catholic Rhineland, which came under the rule of Protestant Prussia in 1815, was always extremely delicate. Increasingly, the Rhinelanders and other Catholics looked ‘beyond the mountains’ to Rome for support. Unlike his predecessor, Frederick William IV believed that he could use the conservatism of the Rhenish Catholics to his advantage and in 1842 he was present at a ceremony to begin the completion of the Gothic cathedral at Cologne. This building project coincided with a surge in popular pilgrimages, the most famous of which occurred in 1844 when half a million Catholics converged on Trier to view the ‘holy coat’. This was bound up with the Rhinelanders’ dislike of Prussian rule.
Catholicism could be both ‘liberal’ and ‘reactionary’. Liberal Catholic ideas were circulated in France through Félicité de Lammenais’ L’Avenir. In some parts of Europe Catholicism was often bound up with nationalism. Belgian and Polish Catholics had close contact with the revolutionaries. The MP Daniel O’Connell argued for the abolition of slavery and the ending of the parliamentary union with Britain.
Protestantism witnessed a similar revival of faith. The roots of the revival can be traced back to German Pietism and the Moravians of the early eighteenth century. From the late 1730s the Methodist revival spread ‘vital religion’ throughout the British Isles. In Britain religious energies focussed on the campaign to abolish the slave trade, the foundation of missionary societies and the work of the Bible Society (founded 1804). In 1813 Evangelical missionary fervour acquired an imperial dimension when Parliament agreed to open up India to Anglican missionary work. The diocese of Calcutta was founded in 1814 and the Gothic St Paul's cathedral was begun by Bishop Daniel Wilson in 1839.
During the first decades of the century a religious revival swept Protestant north Germany which expressed itself in emotional manifestations and a variety of philanthropic works. For example, the Silesian nobleman Hans Ernst von Kottwitz set up a ‘spinning institute’ for the city’s unemployed and a new mission to the Jews was founded in Berlin in 1822. In Prussian Westphalia Count Adalbert von der Recke founded the Düsselthal Salvation Institute in 1817 to provide a refuge for orphaned and abandoned children.
Many Protestants held the premillennial belief that the last days were at hand (this was the rationalie behind attempts to convert the Jews). In Germany the liberal theology that was prevalent in the universities was challenged by apocalyptic preaching that declared that the victory at Leipzig was a prelude to the battle against the Antichrist.
Mid-century: challenges and opportunities
In the decade after 1848 organized religion, and especially the Catholic Church, was rehabilitated as a principle of order in a changing world. But the churches faced challenges from secular forces, from science and biblical criticism and from the alienation of the working classes from organized religion.
David Friedrich Strauss (right) launched an assault on orthodox Christianity in his Life of Jesus Critically Examined (1835). He argued that the New Testament should be read as any other historical text rather than as the divinely inspired word of God. His argument was rejected by conservatives but welcomed by the seven British churchmen who wrote Essays and Reviews in 1860.
The English and Welsh religious census of 1851 revealed the alarming fact that only 50% of the population were in church on Sunday 21 March ('Census Sunday'). Of this 50% nearly half attended Nonconformist rather than Anglican places of workship.
A number of British intellectuals turned against Christianity. George Eliot, Strauss' English translator, abandoned her adolescent Evangelicalism. In 1869 T. H. Huxley coined the word ‘agnostic’.
John Henry Newman (right) and Henry Manning. The Church was divided between liberals who asserted the rights of the individual conscience and ultramontanes who asserted papal authority. The liberal Malines Congress of 1863 argued that the Church should not use the state as a crutch and should end its association with reactionary regimes.
However in 1864 Pius IX issued the Syllabus Errorum which condemned most trends in the modern world and declared it a heresy that ‘the Roman pontiff can and ought to reconcile and harmonize himself with progress, with liberalism and with modern civilization’. Napoleon III responded by banning it in France.
The pope reacted to Italian unification with an interdict forbidding Italian Catholics to vote or to stand in elections. The Italian state responded in 1867 with the expropriation of church land, the closure of religious orders, a ban on pilgrimages, civil marriage and the extension of equal political and civil rights to non-Catholics.
In the summer of 1868 Pius summoned the first General Council of the Church for three hundred years. Over 700 bishops convened at St Peter’s on 8 December 1869. In May 1870 the Council promulgated a constitution containing fundamental statements of faith. A separate constitution setting out the doctrine of papal infallibility in matters of faith and morals, was voted through on 18 July, though a minority of 150 refused to assent to the doctrine regarding it as either inopportune or untrue. The British Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone, Gladstone, a High Anglican with liberal Catholic friends, described the decree as
‘like some mummy picked out of its dusty sarcophagus’.The following day France declared war on Prussia and the last French troops were withdrawn from Rome. Following the defeat of the French at Sedan, Italian troops under General Rafaele Cadorna launched a successful assault on Rome, which was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy. Pius retreated into the Vatican. It was not until 1929 that an agreement was reached and Vatican City became an independent state.
Germany: the Kulturkampf
The term, meaning ‘struggle of cultures’ was coined by the Prussian Left-liberal Virchow, and subsequently adopted by historians to describe the conflict between the Roman Catholic Church and the Prussian and imperial German governments.
In the newly united Germany, Catholics formed a third of the population. They reacted to unification by forging the Centre Party in 1870 to protect the Church and Catholic schools. Under its leader Ludwig Windhorst, it also prompted social reform. For Bismarck, Catholicism was bound up with the regionalism of the south, potential separatism in Alsace and Lorraine and nationalism in the Prussian-ruled parts of Poland. When he failed to persuade the Pope and the German bishops to withdraw their support from the Centre Party, he stepped up his campaign against the Church. Across the Reich, the Jesuits were expelled. In Prussia the government claimed exclusive rights to inspect schools and the May Laws of 1873 obliged trainee priests to attend state universities; church appointments were to be vetted by the state and the registration of births, deaths and marriages was put under state supervision. In 1875 Prussia outlawed all religious orders.
But the Kulturkampf failed to destroy Catholicism as a political and social force and in the Reichstag elections of 1874 the Centre Party made significant gains. In 1878 Pio Nono died and was replaced by the more conciliatory Leo XIII, causing Bismarck to abandon most of his anticlerical legislation, in spite of his previous declaration that he would never 'go to Canossa'.
France: the Catholic revival
The bloodshed of the Paris Commune, especially the execution of the Archbishop of Paris and other priests by the Communards, revived the Catholic Church and led to a semi-revival of ‘throne and altar’ politics. In 1873 the right-wing National Assembly decreed that the basilica of the Sacré Coeur [above] should be built in Montmartre to atone for the crimes of the Commune and the sins that had led to France’s defeat by Germany. But this inspired a fierce anti-clerical revolt.
The Third Republic saw a clash over education between Church and State. In the 1880s the Ferry laws which made primary education free (1881) and compulsory (1882) replaced the teaching of the catechism with ‘moral and civic education’ in the primary schools. By the law of 1886 teaching staff at primary schools for boys were to be laicized within five years. In 1901 a law on associations led to the banning of all religious orders not authorized by the state. This led to the closure of thousands of schools.
From 1890 a Catholic movement, the Ralliement, led by Cardinal Charles Lavigerie and encouraged by Leo XIII, worked for reconciliation with the Republic. But this was ruptured by the Dreyfus affair. In 1902 the anti-clerical radical, Emile Combes, became Prime Minister. In 1903 Leo XIII was replaced by the less conciliatory Pius X. In December 1905 the French government passed the Law of Separation. This abandoned the concessions made by Napoleon’s Concordat, and brought about laïcité, the complete separation of Church and state.
The Churches and social reform
Faced with the problems of industrial society and the growth of socialism, the churches responded with projects for social reform: Protestant working men’s associations in Germany, Christian socialism in England. In 1889 Cardinal Manning successfully mediated in the London Dock Strike. The Salvation Army established food depots, night shelters and rescue homes for ‘fallen’ women.
In the nineteenth century the power of the state advanced at the expense of the Church, particularly in education. In France, the chief educator was no longer the curé, but the instituteur. All the mainstream churches worried about declining numbers.
But it is difficult to generalize because religious practice varied from country to country and region to region. Men tended to be more anti-clerical and less inclined to attend church. For many women, religion, though institutions such as religious orders or the Anglican Mothers’ Union, provided a semi-public role outside the home. In Britain in the 1890s most children attended Sunday school at some time in their lives.
Possibly as an unconscious response to secularism, spontaneous local cults grew up, notably many manifestations of the Virgin to poor peasant girls (including La Salette, 1847; Lourdes (left) 1858; Marpingen, 1876; Knock, 1879). The clergy’s attitude was ambivalent; it instinctively distrusted these manifestations of popular piety, but it saw that, once in male, clerical hands, they could be used to restore the church’s authority. In 1908, three years after the Law of Separation in France, over a million people went on pilgrimage in Lourdes.
The 'secularization narrative' is thus highly contested and not all historians or sociologists see a straightforward linear progress towards a secular society.