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Europe at the time of the greatest confessionalization (initiated by the Reformation ) (around 1620)

Confessionalization describes the historical theory about the interlocking development of church , state and society after the Reformation . It still shapes (German-speaking) research into early modern history in Europe . The epoch during which confessionalization took place in the Holy Roman Empire (around 1540 to 1648) is subsequently also referred to in research as the confessional age or the age of confessionalization . In traditional parlance it is also known as the Age of Faith Split or Age of Faith Struggles.

A distinction is embossed in retrospect of the research concept of confessionalization from the traditional sources of contemporary concept of confessionalism . In the narrower sense, this describes a Protestant school of thought in Germany in the 19th century, which pointedly and a. was represented by Rudolf Rocholl and affirmed the division of Christianity into denominations. In general, denominationalism is meanwhile an overemphasis on one's own denomination. Sometimes the denominational age is - especially colloquially - referred to as the "age of denominationalism".

Confession formation as a theoretical precursor

The theory of confessionalization is based on the work of Ernst Walter Zeeden , who in the 1950s was the first to describe the phenomenon of denominational formation , whereby Zeeden used this term primarily to refer to processes of change within the church in the course of consolidation after the eventful Reformation period: “the spiritual and organizational consolidation of the Christian creeds, which have diverged since the religious split, towards a halfway stable churchism according to dogma, constitution and religious moral way of life ”. In addition, Zeeden already speaks of the “confessional age”.

Basics of the theory

The German historians Wolfgang Reinhard and Heinz Schilling developed the theory independently and in parallel at the end of the 1970s. Schilling sees in denominationalization “a fundamental social process that profoundly plowed up public and private life in Europe, mostly in parallel, sometimes also opposing interlocking with the development of the early modern state and with the formation of a modern, disciplined subject society that is different from the medieval society was not personal and fragmented, but organized institutionally and in terms of area ”. According to this view, the division of Christianity into several denominations has not only brought about great changes in the church and in the religious field, but has also profoundly changed society in all sub-areas, with all denominations showing comparable development patterns. The development of the three major confessions also ran parallel to one another: Instead of understanding the Counter Reformation only as a reaction to the Reformation, the institutionalization of the Catholic reform after the conclusion of the Council of Trent in the 1560s was paralleled with that which had been advancing in the empire since the 1560s second Reformation of the Reformed ( Calvinist or Zwinglian ) creed; At the same time, the Lutheran denomination was only then consolidated into a similar institutional consolidation.

This conception is influenced by the dominance of the history of society based on modernization theory in West German historical studies, which has existed since the 1970s , which explains Wolfgang Reinhard's retrospective assessment of the discovery: “We may think, but at the same time it thinks within us. How much certain conclusions are 'in the air' due to this supra-personal trend, I experienced myself when Heinz Schilling coined the new term 'denominationalization' at the same time, but apparently completely independently of me and on the basis of completely different data material has. ”In contrast to the pair of terms Reformation - Counter- Reformation, which was coined in the 19th century by Protestant-Prussian historiography, for the age of religious struggles, in which a distinction was made between the Reformation, which was regarded as progressive and the Counter-Reformation, which was regarded as retrograde, in that of Reinhard and Schilling's coined term placed greater emphasis on the modernization of early modern society. This overcomes the pejorative trait that has hitherto been attached to the expression Counter Reformation . According to Reinhard, both the Reformation and the Catholic Reform and Counter-Reformation contributed to the modernization of Europe.

As a result of the denominationalization thesis, religion, which played a major role in everyday life in the early modern period but was long neglected in research, has returned to the center of historiographical attention due to its connection with state formation and the paradigm of modernization.


Both researchers have developed basic models for denominationalization, Reinhard for the content, Schilling for the temporal analysis.

Wolfgang Reinhard based the "unity of the new large group denomination" on the following points:

  1. Regaining clear theological ideas,
  2. Dissemination and enforcement of new standards,
  3. Propaganda and prevention of counter-propaganda,
  4. Internalization of the new order through education,
  5. Disciplining the followers (in the narrower sense),
  6. Use of rites,
  7. Influencing the language.

Taking advantage of this, the work of the parish priests and local teachers gave access to the conduct of life of the subjects; the church servants thus acted as “an important transmission belt between the state-bureaucratic center and the periphery”. And if the emerging early modern state knew how to make use of these resources, it would have been able to achieve “discipline and homogenization of the subjects”. Denomination images were among the means that accompanied this development process.

Heinz Schilling provides a four-phase model for the time of confessionalization within the Holy Roman Empire:

  1. Pre-denominational phase: late 1540s to early 1570s → functioning religious peace
  2. Transition to denominational confrontation in the 1570s: Increased polarization and confrontation of denominations, not least because of the spread of the "Second Reformation" and a political change of generations
  3. Peak of confessionalization: 1580s to 1620s
  4. Conclusion of denomination: especially after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 with an “Irish impulse”.

This brought the historical epoch between 1570 and 1620, which had previously been overshadowed by the outstanding events of the Reformation and the Thirty Years' War , to the center of the research discussion.

Wolfgang Reinhard, on the other hand, sees a broader temporal framework for denominationalization: it began with the princely church visits in the 1520s (and the reactions on the part of the Old Believers), and only ended with the denominational homogenization processes in France and Great Britain in 1685 and 1688–1707 with the expulsion of the Salzburg Lutherans in 1731. Lately, Helga Schnabel-Schüle, among others , has questioned the final point of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Various researches on the formation of denominations in other parts of Europe have also shown that such processes also took place in other periods of time. Nevertheless, the talk of denominationalization has now also penetrated the historical scholarly debates outside the German-speaking area.

Criticism and realignment

The original conception of confessionalization was about the proof of a connection between the consolidation of church structures and the increase in state power since the 16th century, which was therefore statistically shaped. Since the 1990s, more and more historians have been turning against this, also looking at pan-European developments outside the empire. Heinrich Richard Schmidt is considered a pioneer in this development . He calls for the state-centered view to be supplemented by the formation of denominations from “below”. The municipalities and cities, but especially the statements of the individual subjects, play a role in this process of modernization, which is why Schmidt used court minutes to investigate whether anything has actually changed in the subjects' beliefs by means of the transmission belt confessionalization. In the meantime, therefore, less emphasis is placed on the connection between denominational formation and state formation than the effect of denominational formation on social discipline , the formation of a homogenized group of subjects, which, according to Gerhard Oestreich, can be dated to the 16th and 17th centuries.

Some other basic assumptions of the confessionalization thesis were also disputed; Winfried Schulze can still see no impetus for modernization in the newly formed denominations, and Michael Stolleis maintains that the early modern state did not arise through denominational ties, but on the contrary solely through secularization . And it was pointed out that a denominational identity in the population did not develop profoundly until the 19th century, while religious indifference was often established beforehand. A research group around Lucian Hölscher spoke in the same way of the "late confessionalization" of the Germans in the 19th century.

In addition, in recent years, based on the change in historical studies due to the New Cultural History , the (often more fluid than previously assumed) transitions and pluralities between and within denominations as well as forms of mixed denominational coexistence and exchange have come into focus, often examined on the basis of micro-historical regional studies.

In the meantime, the original conception of denominationalization is hardly represented in its pure form, but has been more and more differentiated, as the Bayreuth Conference of 2008 on this topic shows. However, the focus of early modern German-language research on the connection between religion and society and the temporally and functionally parallel development of the three major denominations has remained, which is why denominationalization is now used in the terminology of Thomas S. Kuhn as a (research) paradigm - that has not yet been overcome.

The terms denominationalism and denominationalization are increasingly used in the media and science in connection with denominational conflicts in the Near and Middle East, on the one hand for the political system of Lebanon based on denominational proportional representation , on the other hand to describe sectarian conflicts such as in the Syrian war , in Yemen or in Iraq , for example between Sunnis and Shiites . Due to the lack of distinction between historical theory and the different cultural contexts of these conflicts, the orientalist and Middle East expert Daniel Gerlach suggests the term ' sectarism ' - based on the English 'sectarianism' or French 'sectarisme'.



  • Ernst Walter Zeeden: Foundations and ways of denominational formation in the age of religious struggles. In: Historische Zeitschrift 185 (1958), pp. 249-299.
  • Ernst Walter Zeeden: Basics and ways of denominational formation in Germany in the age of religious struggles. In: ders. (Ed.): Counter Reformation. Darmstadt 1973, pp. 85-134.
  • Ernst Walter Zeeden: Confession Formation. Studies on the Reformation, Counter-Reformation and Catholic Reform. Stuttgart 1985.

Developing the theory

  • Wolfgang Reinhard: Counter Reformation as Modernization? Prolegomena to a theory of the confessional age. In: Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 68 (1977), pp. 226-251.
  • Wolfgang Reinhard: Confession and confessionalization in Europe. In: ders. (Ed.): Confession and History. The Confessio Augustana in a historical context. Munich 1981, pp. 165-189.
  • Heinz Schilling: Confessional Conflict and State Building. A case study on the relationship between religious and social change in the early modern period using the example of Grafschaft Lippe. (Sources and research on the history of the Reformation 48), Gütersloh 1981.
  • Wolfgang Reinhard: Forced to confessional? Prolegomena to a theory of the confessional age. In: Journal for historical research 10 (1983), pp. 257-277.
  • Heinz Schilling (Ed.): The reformed confessionalization in Germany - The problem of the "Second Reformation". Scientific symposium of the Association for the History of the Reformation 1985. Gütersloh 1986.
  • Heinz Schilling: Confessionalization in the Reich. Religious and social change in Germany between 1555 and 1620. In: Historische Zeitschrift 246 (1988), pp. 1-45.
  • Hans-Christoph Rublack (ed.): The Lutheran confessionalization. Scientific symposium of the Association for Reformation History 1988. Gütersloh 1992.
  • Wolfgang Reinhard, Heinz Schilling (Hrsg.): The catholic confessionalization. Scientific symposium of the Society for the Publication of the Corpus Catholicorum and the Association for the History of the Reformation. Munster 1995.

Reception and criticism

  • Heinrich Richard Schmidt: Confessionalization in the 16th century (Encyclopedia of German History (EDG), 12). Munich 1992.
  • Heinrich Richard Schmidt: Social Discipline? A plea for the end of statism in denominational research. In: Historische Zeitschrift 265 (1997), pp. 639–682 (PDF from the author's website; 140 kB) .
  • Heinrich Richard Schmidt: Lutheran Church Convents - Reformed Choir Courts. In: Hermann Ehmer, Sabine Holtz (ed.): The Church Convention in Württemberg. Epfendorf / Neckar 2009, pp. 293-313. Comparison of Lutheran Württemberg and Reformed Bern consistories (PDF from the author's website; 247 kB).
  • Heinrich Richard Schmidt: Religious and denominational rooms. In: European History Online , ed. from the Institute for European History (Mainz) , 2013, accessed on: September 2, 2013.
  • Arno Herzig: The compulsion to believe. Recatholization policy from the 15th to the 18th century. Göttingen 2000.
  • Arno Herzig: Recatholization in the German territories in the 16th and 17th centuries. In: Geschichte und Gesellschaft 26 (2000), pp. 76-106.
  • Maximilian Lanzinner: Confessional Age 1555-1618. In: Gebhardt. Handbook of German History . Edited by Wolfgang Reinhard, Volume 10, Stuttgart 2001, pp. 3–203.
  • Harm Klueting : “Second Reformation” - Confession formation - Confessionalization. Twenty years of controversy and results after twenty years. In: Historische Zeitschrift 277 (2003), pp. 309–341.
  • Helga Schnabel-Schüle: Forty years of denominational research - a determination of where we stand. In: Confessionalization and Region. (Forum Suevicum. Contributions to the history of East Swabia and the neighboring regions 3). Konstanz 1999, pp. 23-40.
  • Kaspar von Greyerz , Manfred Jakubowski-Tiessen , Thomas Kaufmann , Hartmut Lehmann (eds.): Interdenominationality - transdenominationalism - intra-denominational plurality. New research on the confessionalization thesis (writings of the Association for Reformation History , 201). Gütersloh 2003.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Kaspar von Greyerz , Franz Xaver Bishop : Confessionalism. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland . December 10, 2009 .
  2. ^ History of Protestant Dogmatics in the 19th Century. 2nd, expanded edition. R. Brockhaus, Wuppertal / Zurich 1989, ISBN 3-417-29343-X , p. 169; Friedrich Wilhelm Graf : Art. Confessionalism. In: Religion Past and Present . 4th edition. Vol. 4. Tübingen 2001, Col. 1541 f.
  3. Lemma Confessionalism. In: .
  4. Thomas Kaufmann : Art. Confessionalism. In: Friedrich Jaeger (Ed.): Encyclopedia of Modern Times . Vol. 6. Darmstadt 2007, Col. 1070-1074.
  5. ^ Ernst Walter Zeeden, Fundamentals and Ways of Confession Formation in the Age of Faith Struggles, in: Historische Zeitschrift 185 (1958), pp. 249–299, here pp. 251 f.
  6. ^ Heinz Schilling: Confessionalization in the Reich. Religious and social change in Germany between 1555 and 1620. In: Historische Zeitschrift 246 (1988), pp. 1–45, here p. 6.
  7. ^ Wolfgang Reinhard: social disciplining - denominationalization - modernization. A historiographical discourse. In: Nada Boskova-Leimgruber (Ed.): The early modern times in historical science. Research trends and research yields. Paderborn / Munich / Vienna / Zürüch 1997, pp. 39–55, here p. 39 (RTF from Heinrich Richard Schmidt's website; 68 kB) .
  8. See Wolfgang Reinhard: Social Discipline - Denominationalization - Modernization. A historiographical discourse. In: Nada Boskova-Leimgruber (Ed.): The early modern times in historical science. Research trends and research yields. Paderborn / Munich / Vienna / Zürüch 1997, pp. 39–55 (RTF from Heinrich Richard Schmidt's website; 68 kB) .
  9. Wolfgang Reinhard: Compulsion to denominate? Prolegomena to a theory of the confessional age. In: Zeitschrift für Historische Forschung 10 (1983), pp. 257–277, here p. 263.
  10. Formulation by Heinz Schilling: The denominational Europe. The confessionalization of European countries since the middle of the 16th century and its consequences for church, state, society and culture. In: Joachim Bahlcke , Arno Strohmeyer (Ed.): Denominationalization in East Central Europe. Effects of religious change in the 16th and 17th centuries on the state, society and culture. Stuttgart 1999, pp. 13-62, here p. 45.
  11. Wolfgang Reinhard: Compulsion to denominate? Prolegomena to a theory of the confessional age. In: Zeitschrift für Historische Forschung 10 (1983), pp. 257–277, here p. 268.
  12. ^ Heinz Schilling: Confessionalization in the Reich. Religious and social change in Germany between 1555 and 1620. In: Historische Zeitschrift 246 (1988), pp. 1-45.
  13. Reinhard: Zwang, 262
  14. ^ Stefan Plaggenborg : Confessionalization in Eastern Europe in the 17th Century. On the scope of a research concept. In: Bohemia 44 (2003), pp. 3–28 (digitized version ) ; Olaf Mörke : The political significance of the denominational in the German Empire and in the Republic of the United Netherlands. Or: Was confessionalization a “fundamental process”? In: Ronald G. Asch , Heinz Duchhardt (eds.): Absolutism - a myth? Structural change in monarchical rule in Western and Central Europe (approx. 1550–1700). Cologne / Weimar / Vienna 1996, pp. 125–164.
  15. ^ Heinz Schilling: Confessionalization. Historical and Scholarly Perspectives of a Comparative and Interdisciplinary Paradigm. In: John M. Headley, Hans J. Hillerbrand, Anthony J. Papalas (eds.): Confessionalization in Europe, 1555-1700. Essays in Honor and Memory of Bodo Nischan. Aldershot 2004, pp. 21-35; for Spain exemplarily José Martínez Millán : En busca de la ortodoxia. El inquisidor general Diego de Espinosa. In: the same (ed.): La corte de Felipe II. Madrid 1994, pp. 189–228, here pp. 191 f., 196–221.
  16. For example, a paper on Ireland found that although there was a double denomination that promoted social cohesion, this had nothing to do with the state-building process: Ute Lotz-Heumann: The double denomination in Ireland. Conflict and coexistence in the 16th and first half of the 17th centuries. Late Middle Ages and Reformation, New Series 13. Tübingen 2000.
  17. ^ Heinrich Richard Schmidt: Social discipline? A plea for the end of statism in denominational research. In: Historische Zeitschrift 265 (1997), pp. 639-682.
  18. ^ Heinrich Richard Schmidt: Village and Religion. Reformed moral discipline in Bernese rural communities in the early modern period. Sources and research on agricultural history 41. Stuttgart 1995.
  19. In this sense and overall critical Volker Reinhardt: Rome in the age of denominationalization. Critical considerations on an epoch interpretation concept. In: Zeitsprge 7 (2003), pp. 1–18.
  20. Winfried Schulze: From common benefit to self-interest. About the change in norms in the corporate societies of the early modern period. In: Historische Zeitschrift 243 (1986), pp. 591-626. Reinhard does not contradict this with regard to the intentions of the historical actors, but objects that precisely the unintended consequences of the Catholic reform measures had a modernizing effect.
  21. Michael Stolleis: "Confessionalization" or "Secularization" in the emergence of the early modern state. In: Zeitsprge 1 (1994), pp. 452-477.
  22. Exemplary: Nicole Grochowina: Confessional Indifference in East Frisia. In: Reformation and Renaissance Review 7 (2005), No. 1, pp. 111-124.
  23. ↑ Put the conflict in perspective. Confessional politics in Germany between 1800 and 1970 - RUB researchers investigate the "late confessionalization" of Germans. Press release of the Ruhr University Bochum from April 19, 2004.
  24. Kaspar von Greyerz, Manfred Jakubowski-Tiessen, Thomas Kaufmann, Hartmut Lehmann (eds.): Interconfessionality - transconfessionality - intra-denominational plurality. New research on the confessionalization thesis. Writings of the Association for the History of the Reformation, 201. Gütersloh 2003.
  25. Frank Fätkenheuer: living environment and religion. Micro-historical studies using examples from Franconia around 1600. Publications by the Max Planck Institute for History, 198. Göttingen 2004; Stefan Ehrenpreis: Denominationalization from below. Concept and topic of a Bergisch model? In: Burkhard Dietz, Stefan Ehrenpreis (ed.): Three denominations in one region. Contributions to the history of denomination in the Duchy of Berg from the 16th to the 18th century. Cologne 1999, pp. 3-13.
  26. See the conference report on The Denominational Paradigm - Achievements, Problems, Limits. XX. Bayreuth Historical Colloquium. Bayreuth: Dieter J. Weiß , Bavarian and Franconian Regional History University of Bayreuth; Thomas Brockmann , History of the Early Modern Age, University of Bayreuth, May 22-24, 2008.
  27. ^ Winfried Schulze: Denominationalization as a paradigm for researching the denominational age. In: Burkhard Dietz, Stefan Ehrenpreis (ed.): Three denominations in one region. Contributions to the history of denomination in the Duchy of Berg from the 16th to the 18th century. Cologne 1999, pp. 15-30; Ute Lotz-Heumann: The Concept of 'Confessionalization'. A Historiographical Paradigm in Dispute. In: Memoria y Civilización 4 (2001), pp. 93-114. Another view, but as an example Luise Schorn-Schütte : Confessionalization as a scientific paradigm? In: Joachim Bahlcke, Arno Strohmeyer (Ed.): Denominationalization in East Central Europe. Effects of religious change in the 16th and 17th centuries on the state, society and culture. Stuttgart 1999, pp. 63-77.
  28. Political confessionalism in the Middle East | NZZ . August 21, 2013, ISSN  0376-6829 ( [accessed October 1, 2019]).
  29. Daniel Gerlach: The Heresy of Others - LMd. Retrieved October 1, 2019 .
  30. Daniel Gerlach: The Middle East is not going under. The Arab world at its historic opportunity . 1st edition. Edition Körber, Hamburg 2019, ISBN 978-3-89684-268-8 , pp. 38 .