Front Page Titles (by Subject) 57.: On the Situation of the Catholic Church: The Direct Effect of the Reformation - Judgments on History and Historians
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57.: On the Situation of the Catholic Church: The Direct Effect of the Reformation - 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 Situation of the Catholic Church: The Direct Effect of the Reformation
Through his writings of 1520–1521 Luther had already placed an abyss between himself and the church. He no longer demanded reform of its head and limbs, but the destruction of its entire organism, the abolition of the ritual and of several sacraments; only the sermons were to remain.
This rage of the reformers against the old church was there before the church was able to exert the slightest repression; it is not the effect of persecution, but rather, in part, of self-stifling. Actually, in the lands where the Reformation was victorious, there immediately set in the most colossal spoliation.
Catholic princes, clergy, and peoples knew from the very outset that they faced complete suppression as soon as their adversaries were strong enough; all writings of the reformers demanded the eradication of the old church. Thus there was to be expected, on the Catholic side, a fight for self-preservation which would be just as unrestrained in its methods. As for the Protestants, in their lucid moments they must have foreseen such a future resistance, if they still knew the Catholic church at all. Hence their theory of the destruction of the Catholics later was supported by the conclusion that the Catholics for their part would take the most extreme reprisals once they regained power.
The accomplishment of a thousand years, the vessel of a religion, the correlate of a thoroughly formed popular custom had been stolen from them and destroyed. And in Germany this had not even happened in tragic battle, but with a sudden appeal to general undisciplined action, beside which the positive new “faith” meant little.
This explains the fearful determination to absolute repression from the start, by any means at all, in the countries not yet overrun, especially France.
From the beginning, the purposes of the confiscating governments were served only by a complete dogmatic defection from the church. Any compromise between the new and the old would somehow have made their loot uncertain again.
It is a ridiculous assumption that power which otherwise, in all of world history, makes men neither particularly good nor particularly happy, should have accomplished this miracle with the German governments of the sixteenth century just because they were Protestant. And to these rulers the old believers had to submit in mute surrender, because for the time being the rulers had on their side the taste of the masses for no discipline.
But for the Catholic church it was high time for the Lutheran Reformation to come. Without it the church would of itself no longer have been capable of an inner transformation, not even with the most incisive insights of its more serious minds. Even the saintliest pope, if we imagine him surrounded by saintly cardinals and curials, would have availed no more against the general situation (entanglement with all worldliness and all superstition) than did an Adrian VI. Only the most terrible danger brought about in all countries the rise of those religious forces that were capable of starting a Counter Reformation.
Protestantism, however, has since then consistently and at times vociferously betrayed the anxiety that, if things were at all allowed to take their natural course, Catholicism would regain the upper hand—and not by force, but for psychological reasons.