Front Page Titles (by Subject) 53.: On the Reformation: Governments—Confiscation of Property and Dogmatism—Church and State - Judgments on History and Historians
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53.: On the Reformation: Governments—Confiscation of Property and Dogmatism—Church and State - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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On the Reformation: Governments—Confiscation of Property and Dogmatism—Church and State
The territorial “churches” which arose at that time were essentially only districts for the seizure of property and for confiscation; within them the new clergy established itself somehow in as wretched a fashion as is conceivable.
With its sermons, when they could be given, this clergy would only have produced ever new evolutions, i.e., a rapid disintegration through ever new dogmatic disputes; and the people, continually confused by this, would have reverted to Catholicism all the more easily. Luther complained bitterly about the impotence of the sermons and the religious spirit in general.
With its own strength the new church would not nearly have sufficed to create an Archimedean point, a banner to rally round; it would have declined into nothing but sects.
But the governments were interested in church property and an increase in power, and with their “quos ego” they had to create state churches which the people, and, note, their clergy as well, were not allowed to leave any more, while the nobles were granted varied participation in the looting. The governments did not care about the dogmas, but they did want a strictly defined dogma as a political and police barrier around their subjects. They had to be much more merciless toward Catholic remnants than were the reformers. (Albert of Brandenburg, Gustavus Vasa, etc., prohibited Catholicism on pain of death, and this was most certainly not due to religious fanaticism.)
The governments aimed, first of all, at stunning the great masses who in the intoxication of their initial undisciplined behavior staggered into their arms anyway, and also at making the opposition defenseless for decades until it should be thoroughly habituated.
The governments were in a hurry about a definite faith. The clergy would have continued disputing, and every individual would have been right by himself.
Münzerism, the Baptist movement, etc., with their claims on state and society were in a direct and fearful competition with the governments even more than with Protestant dogma.
The governments needed a firm dogma to safeguard their confiscations. Without this desire of theirs, Protestantism would have split up into small sects or factions.
Firm orthodoxy was tantamount to holding on to stolen goods.
Catholicism had been extremely tolerant in living and letting live, and had left the convictions of the people alone. The great totality was able to stand a lot.
In Protestantism, on the other hand, the clergy cannot tolerate or ignore anything, and the governments see in every deviation a threat to their enormous confiscations.
Highly significant is the large number of eminent men who after initial sympathy turned away from the new movement: Pirkheimer, Wicelius, and others. Even Reuchlin, although he was sentenced in Rome as late as 1520, adhered to the old faith and was completely averse to Luther’s undertaking.
Those who suffered inwardly and yet were outwardly prudent sympathized with the moderation of the reversionists who worked toward a council.
Thus Paul Lang wrote around 1520: “What I have said about Luther thus far, I did not say assertive [as fact], but only admirative [as admiration], and have never sworn by any magisterial words, but since I, like many others, am waiting till it shall be decided by an ecumenical, universal, and general council what shall be believed, I shall always accept instruction from those who are truly wise, and meanwhile submit all my writings to the judgment of the church of Rome.”
Afterwards only Calvinism appears quite spontaneously and autonomously. It wants to dominate the states, above all to impose its religious will upon them, and in Scotland, e.g., it treats state and world en bagatelle. It at least seeks to approximate an organism which stands above the individual states, and has achieved a Synodus Dordracena.
Luther, on the other hand, never organized his church, but immediately left its form and fortunes to the individual secular governments. He teaches, but the governments act. For from the beginning they stood on the sidelines and confiscated the church properties in which they were more interested than in all justification and salvation. Of course, Luther probably did not foresee what later happened and had to happen. For the time being, the princes and municipal governments were only supposed to set up the gospel and the new church, not to become the highest authorities of faith and supreme judges over religion, doctrine, and church.
But he was no longer able to combat this rapidly adopted practice, because without the governments the Reformation after 1525 would probably have retrogressed among the people. At any rate, the clergy of the new faith were derided and abandoned by the people when the state did not assist them. In his quiet moments, however, Luther may often have been haunted by the thought that the governments offered little guarantee as to their future right thinking. On the other hand, his mind was quite at rest as far as the (enormous) increase in the governments’ power was concerned, and he congratulated himself on having contributed to it. For the present he thought that the princes would follow the advice of their theologians, but a prince chose his father-confessor himself and appointed or removed entire faculties of theology.
In this connection we are reminded again of Döllinger who writes as follows: “The church was completely integrated into the state and regarded as a wheel in the great machine of state. He who wielded absolute power over the noblest and otherwise most inviolable things, namely, religion and conscience, necessarily could gain control gradually of every other area of life in state and nation as soon as he cared to reach for it. Accordingly, with the setting up of the consistories as the sovereign authorities governing church interests there began the development of bureaucracy, of the omnipotence of prince and state, of administrative centralization.”
If there is anything that characterizes the modern state, it is the hatred and worry it feels when it has to tolerate a religion which has connections beyond its borders and belongs to a totality that the state does not control. Nevertheless, until the eighteenth century the state pretended at least to have the religion whose church it had admitted to its officialdom. Since then things have changed.
It had at first been an advantage of the state that it made one batter out of Lutheran orthodoxy, possession of the church properties, and political omnipotence. But if one of these three had to be the first to go, it certainly turned out to be Lutheran orthodoxy.
The enormous power of the state over the church in the sixteenth century suddenly was there in fact; no one was in a position to set any limits for it. Practice had to supply them in time.
Protestantism originated as a state church, and when the state becomes indifferent, it is in a dubious position.
It is the greatest step toward omnipotence which the state has taken in past times. Then there followed on the Catholic side Louis XIV. The subsequent completion of state omnipotence through the theories of the Revolution could not have taken place so easily without this preceding Caesaropapism.
The brachium saeculare [secular arm], which the Catholic church had once called upon for individual action, has control over the Protestant church a priori.
The church surely did not want it that way in the beginning. But when in the heat of battle it wiped the sweat off its brow for the first time, it had to realize that it was in the hands of the state, if only through the marriage of the clergy.