Over these recent weeks we have been considering the interpenetration of society and Christianity during the period of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Cracks began to appear in that union in the later Middle Ages. The first disputes were probably about who was to have control of marriage and divorce.
But the great shock came about with the Reformation. This was a turbulent time throughout Europe and a part of that turbulence was that people found it hard to conceive of there being a split between society and religion.
What in fact occurred was not the end of Christendom but the beginning of many Christendoms. Each region became its own form of unity between religion and society. The principle upon which the religious wars following the Reformation were settled was “cuius regio, eius religio” that is, each region would follow the religion of its ruler. So, we have the principle of Christendom still at work but now there would be many smaller unities of religion and society. So, Anglicanism was established in England; various parts of Germany became Lutheran or Evangelical; the various Swiss cantons became Calvinist, Swingman or Catholic. The states which now make up Italy were officially Catholic; France became officially Catholic after quite some conflict and so on in all the regions of Europe.
One of the big factors in the success of the Reformation was the support and protection which the German princes gave to Luther. They saw it as an opportunity to remove their dependence on Rome and gain greater independence.
So, from the time of the Reformation, the various states of Europe became their own Christendoms and this was true not only of the Protestant states but also those which remained Catholic. The Catholic princes were very influential in the inner workings of the Church in their own realms and indeed in the overall working of the Catholic Church. A new age arrived with the Reformation but not an age which threw off the social structure of Christendom – the unity of society and religion.
By Fr Frank O’Loughlin