Why don't Protestants unite with Catholics?

The German Empire 1871-1918

Prof. Dr. Benjamin Ziemann

Prof. Dr. Benjamin Ziemann

Prof. Dr. Benjamin Ziemann teaches as Professor of Modern German History at the University of Sheffield in Great Britain. He was visiting scholar at the University of York, the Humboldt University in Berlin and the Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen. His main areas of work are German history in the 19th and 20th centuries - especially the German Empire and the Weimar Republic - the military and violence history of the two world wars, and historical peace research. He is a member of the editorial team of the Archives for Social History. He is currently working on a biography of Martin Niemöller.

Recent book publications

Republic Veterans. War memory and democratic politics 1918–1933, Bonn 2014;

Encounters with Modernity. The Catholic Church in West Germany, 1945–1975, New York / Oxford 2014;

Violence in the First World War. Kill - Survive - Refuse, Essen 2013;

Social history of religion. From the Reformation to the Present, Frankfurt / M. / New York 2009;

with Bernd Ulrich (ed.), Everyday life at the front in World War I. A historical reading book, Essen 2008;

with Thomas Mergel (ed.), European Political History 1870–1913, Aldershot 2007.

The economic, social and political conditions at the time of the empire force the two major denominations to reorientate themselves and to grapple with the question of what role religion can play in society in the future. In addition to the churches, modern science is increasingly appearing as a new framework for orientation and interpretation.

Religion has great importance in the society of the empire and is characterized by the competition between Catholics and Protestants. "Service in the church in Burg" (Spreewald), color wood engraving from 1893 (& copy akg-images)

Contrary to popular belief, the 19th century was not an age of secularization. In a broader use of the term, secularization can be understood as the replacement of religious by secular, secular patterns of interpretation, with corresponding consequences for religious practice. In this sense, the sociologist Max Weber (1864–1920), one of the most influential liberal-national academics and intellectuals of the empire, spoke in 1905 of the process of "disenchanting the world". Due to deep controversies about the place of religion in the modern age and in view of a continuing decline in participation in the Lord's Supper, the Protestant churches in particular were directly involved in the process of secularization. At the same time, however, Protestants and Catholics organized new forms of piety and religiosity. Thus religion was a social fact of the first order even at the beginning of the 20th century. It shaped the social world and the interpretive culture of broad sections of the population. Even the social democratic workers, who were increasingly suspicious of the Christian churches, continued to fall back on rites of passage shaped by Christianity at the turns of life such as birth, marriage and death.

The lasting importance of religion was due not least to the denominational division in Germany. It has been a fundamental fact in German history since the Reformation in the 16th century. Competition and conflict between Catholics and Protestants then shaped the history of the empire with renewed intensity. The Social Democrat Wilhelm Liebknecht therefore stated with regret in 1872: "In no epoch in German history have religious questions been treated with greater [...] zeal than at this moment." However, the starting positions with which both denominations entered into this conflict differed.

Catholicism on the defensive

The Catholics were on the defensive in the Empire. This defensive initially had a demographic dimension. With the small German solution to the German question, six million German-speaking Catholics in Austria had left the national association. Since then, Catholics have formed a minority of just over a third of the population in the German Empire. With the exception of Upper Silesia and the Rhineland, they lived mainly in rural regions that were hardly affected by the dynamism of the capitalist economy, such as Old Bavaria, Westphalia or the Black Forest. The social profile of Catholics reflected this traditional structure. Catholics were far less represented among entrepreneurs and industrial workers than their share of the population. Second, the defensive had a political dimension. With the Kulturkampf, the Liberals and Bismarck pursued an aggressive anti-Catholic policy aimed at pushing the Catholic Church back from the public sphere.

In addition, the Catholic Church - thirdly - positioned itself in defense against the rationalistic and individualistic tendencies of the modern age. This was in connection with the implementation of the ultramontane, that is, the orientation focused on the Pope in Rome, which had taken place on two levels since the 1830s. In the German dioceses, individual theological faculties and seminaries favored isolation from modernity in the sense of ultramontanism, while the Curia in Rome pushed this process forward with a series of declarations. In 1854, for example, she dogmatized the Immaculate Conception of Mary by emphasizing that, regardless of her natural conception, Mary remained free from original sin at her conception, thus underlining the special holiness of the Blessed Mother. In the so-called Syllabus Errorum ("Directory of Errors") from 1864, Pope Pius IX. propose a list of the damnable “fallacies” of modern culture. In addition to socialism and liberalism, he also counted the idea of ​​progress and secular human rights among them. Finally, at the First Vatican Council in 1870, which had to be broken off because of the Franco-German war, the dogma of infallibility (infallibility) prevailed against bitter resistance, especially from German bishops. It determined that the Pope in ex cathedra - "from the bishopric in Rome" - proclaimed magisterial decisions was infallible.

The enforcement of ultramontanism was not without conflict. But in the end, the Catholics were given an orientation framework that promoted the demarcation to the outside and the homogenization to the inside. Ultramontanism demanded and promoted a demonstrative, visible form of piety. This was shown in spectacular form, for example, in the Marian apparitions. In the Saarland mining community of Marpingen, three girls claimed in 1876 that the Virgin Mary had appeared to them. Thousands of pilgrims quickly flocked to the remote town to take part in the miracle. At the height of the Kulturkampf, the Prussian state sent troops to break up crowds and keep the pilgrims away. The upswing of ultramontan piety was less spectacular, but no less forceful, in the growth of Catholic orders. Especially female religious orders, who were often active in nursing, experienced an explosive growth of the branches and members in the empire that often extended beyond 1918.

At the center of the ritual piety of all Catholics was the Eucharistic cult, i.e. the sacrifice of the Mass in the Lord's Supper with the reception of Holy Communion, which was the duty of every Catholic at Easter at least once a year. Nationwide figures on the development of participation in Easter Communion are not available, as the Catholic Church did not introduce statistical surveys until 1915. However, isolated indications indicate that the ecclesiastical practice of Catholics in villages and small towns remained stable at a high level until 1914. Only in large cities like Cologne and Munich was alienation from church practice visible as early as 1900, especially among workers. There were serious differences, especially between women and the more often "distant" men. They are to be seen in the context of a profound feminization of religiosity in the 19th century, which is also evident in the rise of the cult of Mary to become a model of ultramontan piety. If one assumes a connection between intensive ecclesiasticalism and voting for the center, then on the eve of the First World War around two thirds of all Catholic men were practicing Christians who were loyal to the church.

The Kulturkampf promoted the ultimate implementation of ultramontanism and at the same time the isolation of Catholics from the majority society in a largely self-contained milieu. Catholic denominational associations were an important means of integrating the milieu internally. In addition to religious associations in the narrower sense, such as congregations and sodalities ("fraternal communities"), they also included mission and reading associations. There was also a wide range of professional associations for farmers, craftsmen and other professional groups. This network of clubs was not fully developed until around 1900, and it remained unevenly developed regionally, with a strong focus on the Rhineland and Westphalia. At the core of the associations was the presidential constitution, according to which a clergyman always had to act ex officio as chairman of an association. This corresponded to the image of clerical tutelage that the culture-fighting liberals harbored, and led to some conflicts in everyday club life.

In addition, however, there was a silent secularization, as many of the men who were active in the clubs gradually broke away from clerical control and used the club meetings as places of learning for participation. In this detail, as in general, the Catholic associations show the ambivalences that shaped the Catholic milieu: On the one hand, there was an attempt to isolate themselves from the modern world; On the other hand, the principle of unification in associations was itself a supporting pillar of civil society, and with and in the associations Catholics gradually opened up to the conflicts of bourgeois-capitalist modernity.

The Volksverein for Catholic Germany founded in Mönchengladbach in 1890 was an example of the second tendency. With around 800,000 members in 1914, it devoted itself to popular and workers' education. With a strictly anti-socialist orientation, one also received the politics of the bourgeois social reformers and thus arrived at a realistic understanding of industrial society. From 1900 a "trade union dispute" raged in the Catholic camp over the question of whether Catholic workers should organize themselves in Christian trade unions and cooperate with other trade unions. The so-called Mönchengladbach direction was consequently on the side of the unions and against the so-called integralists. They also rejected the initiative of the Rhenish center politician Julius Bachem, who in 1906 called for cooperation with Protestants under the motto "We have to get out of the tower". Overall, club Catholicism was at the same time a vehicle for demarcation from the outside and stabilization inward.

Source text

A plea for the denominational opening of the Center Party

In the Center Party, a dispute raged since 1906 over the question of whether the party should break out of the "tower" of the Catholic milieu and transform itself into a Christian collective party. In 1906 the Cologne publisher Julius Bachem (1845–1918) developed the arguments of the so-called Cologne direction.

"The center tower [...] was built during the difficult time of the ecclesiastical political conflict. It was supposed to serve to ward off the state church onslaught against the Catholic Church in Prussia under the leadership of the most powerful statesman of the 19th century. [...]

There are also Catholic circles in which the center is merely the 'Catholic People's Party' and the political character of the center is by no means always emphasized, where appropriate, with a clarity and decisiveness that excludes all misinterpretation. [...]

In addition, on the Catholic side, confessional isolation still prevails in individual places where it is objectively not justified. In this direction, the attempt, which has not yet been given up, to thwart or make more difficult the interdenominational trade association organization of workers by asserting specifically church-related aspects, has obviously done most of the damage *, while interdenominational organizations for other professions (farmers, craftsmen) have long since been used to maintain the common economic Interests exist and are unopposed in activity. This overstepping of denominationalism also indirectly nourishes the prejudice that still exists in so wide acatholic circles that the center faction is basically a structure created exclusively in the interests of Catholicism. [...]

One must [...] do everything possible to dispel this harmful, even dangerous prejudice, even with the practice of extensive self-denial.

[…] [W] e have to get out of the tower. Not out insofar as we have to give up our strong defensive position. No, we can and should keep them. We're not getting too close to anyone. Confessional peace is also not served by those who make themselves defenseless. But the closure, the barrier, which lies in the picture of the tower, must not go beyond the limit drawn by the circumstances. We should not remain barricaded in the tower, but stand up in front of it and, in ever wider circles, with the means that the present has at hand, stand up for the program of the political center party, which can truly be seen. If the center is a true state party, it should also feel as such and assert itself as such everywhere; therefore none of its Catholic members needs to reveal a pint of his religious convictions.

The wider the circles in which one becomes acquainted with the overall activities of the Center Party, the more the prejudice against the Center faction will disappear. [...] It is imperative that greater caution be exercised in electing those members of the non-Catholic denomination who are willing and able to maintain good contact with the center. [...]

Under the influence of the intensification of the denominational differences on which so many are working, the center must not get into a splendid isolation, which would make it extremely difficult for the Reich and the people to fulfill its task. The thoughts developed or indicated above are intended to serve the endeavor to reduce this risk. "

* Bachem is alluding to the fact that the interdenominational Christian trade unions founded at the end of the 19th century with the support of the Center Party were rejected by a small group within the party, which was supported by parts of the German episcopate. The opponents of the Christian trade unions, who mostly proceeded from corporate conceptions of society, wanted the Catholic workers to be unionized within the special Catholic workers' associations.

Gerhard A. Ritter (ed.), Das Deutsche Kaiserreich 1871–1914. A historical reading book, 5th edition, Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht Verlag, Göttingen 1992, pp. 140 ff.