Role of the papacy after the thirty years’ war

Role of the Papacy after the Thirty Years’ War

            The Treaty of Westphalia which ended the Thirty Years’ War brought about the emergence of the modern state in Europe and ushered in a decline in the role of religion and the papacy in Europe.  In a 1938 account of the war, Dame Veronica Wedgwood described the war as “the outstanding example of meaningless conflict.” (Wilson 2009, 12).

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            Some scholars see the war as a victory of Protestantism over Catholicism.   In fact, the peace agreement signed at Westphalia did give equality of religion both to the Calvinists and Lutherans, as well as to the Catholics.   The legislature of the German diet, in addition, also changed its voting procedures on religious issues, to protect the Protestants within the legislature from a majority made up of Catholics (Wilson 2009, 12).

            But the war did more than deal a blow to the strength of the Catholic Church.   The Treaty of Westphalia also brought about a change in the development of sovereign states.   Historians see the end of the war as factor that lead to the emergence of the modern nation.   But the decline of the empire of the Habsburgs altered the European balance of power.   This decline, along with the Protestant Reformation, allowed the Treaty of Westphalia to weaken the authority of the Pope throughout the European continent.  (Farr 2005, 156).

            Therefore, the Treaty of Westphalia became a turning point in the change of the European continent from a series of feudal principalities to one of sovereign nations.   Before the Thirty Years’ War, most European polities in Europe had an Emperor, a feudal lord, or a leading clergyman.   The feudal aristocracy and the Papacy had power, as well, but by the end of the war, the Holy Roman Empire could no longer enforce its political or ecclesiastical will.  (Farr 2005, 156).

            As a result of the war, religious issues were no longer a destabilizing factor in the politics of Europe.   Religion was still important to the European population, but it would not be the cause of war.   When Pope Innocent X condemned the Treaty of Westphalia, most European leaders simply ignored him.   A new religious climate swept through Europe.  (Graham 2001, 5).

            The peace agreement at Westphalia, 1648, provided official sanction to the idea of national neutrality.   This innovation brought about a revolution in the relationship between the state and the church.   Up until this time, the Christian Europe was like a family.   This family acknowledged that the Pope was leader of this Chrisiandom.   In disputes between subjects and princes, or with the leader of a state, the Pope was recognized as the leader and supreme arbitrator.   It was not unwarranted for the Pope to get involved in even in temporal matters.  (The Counter-Reformation n.d.).

            However, the unity in Europe regarding religious matters ended with the separation of the territories into nations.   In addition, the Holy Roman Empire and its politico-religious constitution, crashed with the acceptance of the idea of neutrality in religious affairs.   At that point, the Pope saw interference into any matter of the state as unproductive.   The Pope did remain as sovereign of the Papal States, and did participate in business of a political nature.   Generally, however, the Pope began to deal mainly with matters of a spiritual nature to meet the demands of the new relationship between the state and the church.  (The Counter-Reformation n.d.).

            The new rulers of the sovereign nations, however, wanted to destroy all signs of the institution of the church and claim complete authority of their lands.   Even the Catholic rulers became jealous of the new Protestant rulers and their increased power.   The Protestant rulers claimed complete ecclesiastical jurisdiction.   The Catholic rulers, therefore, wanted the same kind of power over Catholic Churches within their lands.   It was no longer the Church acting against the state, but the state attempted to absorb the rights of the Catholic Church.  (The Counter-Revolution n.d.)

            The new sovereign rulers began to demand that they have say in all church appointments.   In addition, they exercised what was called the Royal Placet upon church pronouncements as well as documents.   No longer would these sovereigns put up with exemptions and privileges in support of church property or clerics as previous leaders did.   These leaders said they had the right to tell cardinals who should assume the papacy.   They also felt they should be able to tell the pope who should be anointed as cardinals.   In addition, these new leaders wanted to control education in their state, and make the laws regarding marriages.   These leaders also were the ones who decided what they would tolerate from the Pope and church.  (The Counter-Reformation n.d.)

            Many of the bishops of the church favored the idea of taking the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical matters away from the Pope.   Many bishops were angry because of the Pope’s continued interference in the matters of the state.   These bishops, however, did not understand that the rulers were a bigger danger in the matter of their own independence than the Pope could ever be.   In addition, there were large groups of laymen who wanted promotion as saw this transfer of power as a way to get it.  The idea was also supported by the Jansenists who disliked the Pope because he tried to interfere in the religious revolution they wanted to initiate.   The philosophers of the day also disliked the Pope and wanted to see his power diminish.   Many of these philosophers did not understand that disputes between the state and church would cause a weakening of Christianity itself.   There were also many Catholics who wanted to see change in the way Rome operated.   Most were liberal-minded and part of the Aufklarung school and advocated the modernization of the church government and discipline.  (The Counter-Reformation n.d.).

            Many scholars question how the papacy could go from the height of power to a diminished role within Europe.   An examination of history helps to put the issue into perspective.   After the fall of the Roman Empire in 476, the political shape of Europe was in shambles due to consistent attacks from barbarians.   The communities were organized in a variety of ways with different groups of individuals having different rights.   This was a decentralized feudal system and not one based on hierarchy.   Europe did not have the individual sovereignties, but had shifting lordships.   Not until the end of the Middle Ages did more organized forms of government organized.  (Beaulac 2000, 152).

            Most sovereign areas began to join forces in Christian communities.   This union was a catalyst in the transformation of Europe.   The Pope and the Emperor soon became the primary actors in this new society.   Both the Pope and Emperor had their sites on becoming the supreme leader of the land.   In the time of Charlemagne, he acknowledged the authority of the Pope.   When the Holy Roman Empire began to challenge the authority of the Pope after the Treaty of Verdun, the Pope adopted what he called the Two swords doctrine.   This doctrine stated that God delegated all power over both the temporal society and the spiritual world directly into the hands of the Pope.  (Beaulac 2000, 153).

            By the Middle Ages, the European society had a two dimensional focus.   First, it represented the horizontal axis which consisted of the Papacy and the German Empire.   The second dimension consisted of the Papacy, German Empire and a significant number of small societies.   It is important to note that there were still many European monarchies that refused to recognize the authority of the Pope even at that time.  (Beaulac 2000, 155).

            By the time of Martin Luther in 1515, a new ideal was set in motion with the Protestant Reformation.   The reformation spread actively and quickly through Europe.   The Protestant Reformation supported the idea of government being secular in nature.  (Beaulac 2000, 155).  After the Protestant Reformation there was a permanent division of western Christendom.   This strife brought about anger and hatred which brought about the Thirty Years’ War.   The Catholic Church, however, finally realized that it had to be accepting of the Protestant movement.   It was soon forced to accept a much smaller role within Europe.   In fact, by 1870 the only Papal State left standing was Vatican City.  (Guisepi n.d.).

            There were always those who challenged the word of the Pope.   Even prior to the Great Interregnum, the scope of Papal authority was challenged.   Nevertheless, it was the consolidation into autonomous states that took the place of what some saw as universal Christendom and its ideals.   England became the first of the European states to develop a central government.   France developed next, but much more slowly.   The beginning of the idea of monarchy was found in Germany long before the Treaty of Westphalia.   Several princes in Germany took the Protestant position in a conflict against the Holy Roman Empire.   The disagreement was settled in the Treaty of Augsburg in the year 1555.  (Beaulac 2000, 159).

            After the Treaty of Augsburg, the Holy Roman Empire officially acknowledged the Lutheran faith.   The Germans could impose the religion they wished upon their people.  In addition, as a result of the treaty, Papal land previously taken by the states was maintained.  But this peace accord did not provide a permanent solution.   Many rulers in Europe became Calvinists, and continued taking Papal lands.   The Catholics, however, still had the majority in most legislative houses.   These majorities made the Protestants distrust the governing bodies and soon, the government began to suffer.   Not only did the states prepare armies, but so did the Catholics and Protestants.   The Catholic League was lead by Maximilian I.   He was from Bavaria.   The Protestant Union was lead by Frederick V of the Palatinate.  (Aikinson 2005)

            In the beginning of the 17th century, Europe seemed to fall into two camps.   There were the Catholics and the Protestants.   England and the provinces in the Netherlands, joined forces with the Evangelical Union.   They were ready to defend Protestantism.   Meanwhile, the northern states of Sweden and Denmark wanted completed control of the Baltic region.   They were Protestant as well.   In Spain, the Catholic ruler was interested in regaining the Netherlands.   Meanwhile, the French wanted to oppose anything that the Spanish wanted to do.   This struggle brought about the Defenestration of Prague.   This act was a revolt against the domination by the Catholics.  (Beaulac 2000, 160).  After the Catholic regents ended up surviving as seen as intervention by God.  (Graham 2001, 3).

            The Thirty Years’ War that ensued began as a war of religion, but ended up as a war of aggression against different elements within European society.   Unfortunately, it took place mostly on the soil of Germany.   It consisted mostly of Sweden and France against the Habsburg dynasty.  (Beaulac 2000, 160).

            Therefore, there was a shift after the Treaty of Westphalia over to a state system.   These states maintained exclusive control and power in their well-identified area.   So Westphalia created a new order of states, and replaced the idea of hierarchy which featured the Holy Roman Empire and the Pope.  Scholar Leo Gross emphasized the importance of the 1648 treaty.  “Westphalia for better or worse marks the end of an epic and the opening of another.   It represents the majestic portal which leads from the old into the new world.” (Beaulac 2000, 150).

            Charles Fenwick, a publicist, stated that “the international community was to consist of coequal members individually independent of any higher authority.” (Beaulac 2000, 150).

            The bottom line was that early modern Catholicism has to adapt to a changing Europe.   There were considerable reasons why the church had to change.   For instance, it had to adapt to the emerging idea of a modern nation.   The church had to accept the fact that the modern world was expanding both from a demographic and economic standpoint and would engage in colonial expansion.   In addition, the Renaissance was upon the world with more acceptance of ideas such as the Protestant Reformation.  (Bireley 2009, 221).

            The Pope responded to the changing world by attempting to give supporters, especially in the cities, a more approachable form of the Christian church.   The Pope also attempted to gain control, and maintain control, over all aspects of the church.  (Bireley 2009, 222).

            The sovereign state idea began in the Middle Ages, but it was not until the 16th century that the idea began to catch hold.   The Pope resisted when Charles I, of Spain, Francis I, of France, and Henry VIII, of England came to power with consolidated power.   But soon the Pope responded.   Back in 1450, Nicholas V developed a Papal residence and gathered and consolidated the Papal states.   The Pope managed to control a great amount of land.   Scholar Jean Delumeau said “The Pope disposed of a state that administratively was the equal, if not superior to, any other state in Europe.” (Bireley 2009, 223).

            The reality was that is 1618, the Austrian, Habsburg dynasty attempted to impose Catholic rule on their subjects of Bohemia who were Protestant.   In the battle, Protestants fought Catholics, the Holy Roman Empire was in conflict with France, the German princes, and France opposed Spain.   Soon, the Danish, Swedish, Polish and Russians all became involved in the conflict.  (Cavendish 1998, 50).

            The dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire and collapse of the Habsburg dynasty severely weakened the power of the Pope after the wars.   Both the Holy Roman Empire and the Habsburgs previously dictated the religious beliefs of the people in their lands.   After the Treaty of Westphalia, the princes within the German state could declare whether their land was Calvinist, Lutheran or Catholic.  (Smith 2010).

            In 1618, religious issues were paramount and a Bohemian revolt occurred.   A major issue became the tolerance of religious issues by the Habsburg dynasty.   Meanwhile, Protestantism continued to grow in Bohemia and Hungary.   It was the Catholic reaction, however, that caused trouble.  The Catholics closed Protestant churches and elected Ferdinand of Styria, who was educated by the Jesuits, as the king of the regency council.   After the move to ban Protestants from all civil offices, hostility rang out in the region.  (Graham 2001, 3).

            Ironically, the lands broke down into territories, much like they are today.   Most of the Catholics located in the southern part of Europe.   The Lutherans were mostly found in the German area.   The Calvinists lived mostly in northern Europe.   This move, however, insured that the Thirty Years’ War would, in fact, become the last of the wars based on religious issues.   (Smith 2010).

            The balance of power in western Europe changed drastically after the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire, and Habsburg dynasty.   The power moved out of Rome and away from the Pope with the development of a more secular society.   This new society became more interested in economics, trade, and other issues not related to religion.   After the Treaty of Westphalia, countries gained strength not because of the religion of its people, but because of its willingness to engage in trade, colonialism and industry.  (Smith 2010).

            Therefore, in the discussions at Westphalia, it was decided that it was more important to bring order to Europe, even if it disturbed the role of the Pope.   After the treaty was signed, Pope Innocent I issued “zelo domus Dei” where he declared the treaty null and void, along with ay article from the treaty that had a negative affect of the Catholic faith.  (New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia n.d.)

            Europe was no longer dominated by the Papacy and Holy Roman Empire and was pulled away from the ageless institution of the Church.   Distinct and separate polities took hold in Europe and established what became known as political autonomy.   A new world order resulted from the Treaty of Westphalia as it assured there would be no world domination by the Pope and Catholic Church.  (Farr 2005, 161).

            The Treaty of Westphalia actually consisted of two peace treaties.   The Treaty of Osnabruck was signed between the Protestants and Sweden, along with various allies.   The Treaty of Munster, however, was signed by the Catholic King of the nation of France, and various allies, and Princes in opposition to German leadership.  (Farr 2005, 167).

            The treaty did pay respect to the idea of Christendom.   The main idea of the treaty was to limit and develop regulation of religious practice.   There were provisions within the document that were aimed at limiting the power of the princes regarding the religious sphere.   The treaty recognized the idea of freedom of conscience for members of the Catholic faith who lived in areas dominated by Protestants and also for Protestants living in a predominately Catholic area.   Equality between the Catholics and the Protestants became part of the assembly in the German diet.  (Farr 2005, 165).

            The 18th century for the Catholic Church became one of transition.   The ideas of the Middle Ages regarding politics and religion were caste aside in favor of a more modern view.   Conflict, however, still remained regarding the role of the Pope and the role of the state.   For the Pope, this was time where he had to defend his right to intervene in any matter of a temporal nature.   But, he also, had to defend his very right to control in matters of a spiritual nature.  After Innocent X died, Cardinal Chigi, former nuncio of Cologne, and envoy during the treaty negotiations became Pope.   He assumed the title of Alexander VII.   (The Counter-Reformation n.d.)

            Many scholars mark the year 1648 as the beginning of modern Europe.   The date marks the failure of the Catholic Church to restore religious unity on the continent of Europe.   It was a sign to all the world that the Pope was no longer a major force within the world.   As a matter of fact, at the negotiations for the Treaty of Westphalia, the Pope’s representatives were not permitted to participate.   Therefore, the Pope operated on the side-lines, much as he does today.   Europe became a continent of two cultures, Protestant and Catholic.   The authority of the Pope took a backseat to the secular realm in Europe.  (International Catholic University n.d.)

            The sovereignty of the states in Europe was established with the Treaty of Westphalia.   The authorities in these states could override anyone else, and make, enforce or cancel laws within the state.   For instance, the many German princes who had been members of the Holy Roman Empire became sovereigns of their own states.   They were the authority and they could override any decision of the Pope.   The monarch not only had authority over secular matters, but also over all religious matters.   This treaty ended the idea of international monopoly when it comes to the area of religion.   It recognized the equality between Catholics and Protestants and created the idea of religious tolerance.   Each state had its own religion.   The religion depended on the religion embraced by the monarch.   However, the idea of the separation of church and state was born when the Pope lost power in the Treaty of Westphalia.  (Bratt 2005).

            As the Papacy moved away from the Treaty of Westphalia, it did so cautiously.   Alexander II was always an opponent of nepotism, but changed his policy due to pressure from cardinals and foreign ambassadors.   Soon, he allowed his family in Rome to gain too much influence within the Papacy.   Cardinal Mazarin opposed Alexander’s selection to begin with, and made sure that Louis XIV was made aware of the Pope’s plans regarding territory.   Louis sent an army to revenge an insult made to his ambassador.   He forced the Pope to sign the Peace of Pisa in 1648.   This peace treaty further disgraced the office of the Pope.  (The Counter-Reformation n.d.)

            It was not all negative for Alexander II.   He did remain neutral in conflicts between Portugal and Spain, and gained the return of the Jesuit order to the city of Venice.   In addition, he welcomed Queen Christina of Sweden home to Rome.   She left the Lutheran faith and came home to the Catholic Church.  (The Counter-Reformation n.d.)

            In conclusion, the role of the Papacy greatly changed after the Thirty Years’ War and the Treaty of Westphalia that followed.   The treaty negotiators wanted to make sure that the era of the religious war was over for good.   Since the day of Martin Luther, Europe had been plagued with discontent between the Pope, Catholic Church and Protestants.   The brutal scandals and wars that rocked Europe resulted in distrust, suspicion and even hatred between the peoples of the different faiths.   Although the end of the war still did not resolve boundaries between certain territories, especially in Germany and central Europe, it did put to rest the question of Papal authority within the nation-states.   The decline in Papal authority raised concerns at the time about the future of the church.   The men who held the reigns as Pope exercised great restraint in their reactions to the treaty.   The Catholics, however, were too tired from battle to put together any kind of fight against the secular movement.   However, with determination the Pope assumed a new role in world affairs.   This role of the Pope remains in place today.   Many nations have a majority of Catholic populations, but the nation does not take its orders from the Vatican.   In fact, there were many who worried about the election of John F.  Kennedy as president of the United States in 1960 due to his Catholicism.   Nevertheless, secular government remains in force in the western world today.   The diminished role of the Pope after the Treaty of Westphalia resulted in the absence of religious strife throughout Europe in its modern history.


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