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Modus vivendi , caricature by Wilhelm Scholz : The Pope and the Reich Chancellor call on each other to kiss the foot as a sign of submission, Ludwig Windthorst observesthe scenethrough the curtain. Caption: Pontifex: “Well please, don't be embarrassed!” Chancellor: “Also please!” . From the Kladderadatsch , No. 14/15 (March 18, 1878).

In Germany the term Kulturkampf is related to the conflict between Prussia and later the German Empire under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and the Catholic Church under Pope Pius IX. based; these disputes escalated from 1871; they were ended by 1878 and diplomatically settled in 1887.

Politically, the main issue in Germany was the separation of the state from the Catholic Church in its legal and political dimension, as well as the influence of the organized Catholic minority. In its eastern territories, Prussia in particular encountered the alignment of Polish nationalism with Catholicism, i.e. a risk of secession projected onto religious affiliation .

The Protestant churches were also affected by the Kulturkampf; but they were not at the center of the dispute. They cannot be clearly assigned to a camp either, because measures against the Catholic “competitors” were also in their favor. Otto von Bismarck took sharp measures against the Catholic clergy ; for that he was even criticized by Protestants and liberals . From 1878 there was again a rapprochement between the state and the Catholic Church.

In general, conflicts between the state and the Catholic Church in several states in Europe and South America in the 19th century are referred to as Kulturkampf, which basically involved an attempt to reorganize the relationship between state and church . During the Kulturkampf, representatives of two competing world views - conservative and liberal - clashed . The state sought the implementation of a liberal policy that intended a separation of church and state and advocated the introduction of civil marriage in Prussia, for example . Religious forces, most of which belonged to the Catholic Church, resisted; They advocate the influence of the religious in public and politics as well as a primacy of church and religion over state and science.

In a larger context, “Kulturkampf” is also used to describe a European phenomenon: Similar developments occurred in several countries on the continent. Switzerland played a certain pioneering role in this, compare Kulturkampf in Switzerland . The Baden and Bavarian Kulturkampf also took place before the Prussian. In the traditional understanding of history, both are understood as the forerunners of the “real” conflict between Prussia or the Reich and the Catholic Church; in more recent historiography they are seen more as evidence of the supra-regional character of the German cultural struggles.

In addition, the term plays a certain role, especially in right-wing circles in the contemporary political discussion in Germany, see “ Current usage ” below in the article.

Prehistory, background and causes

Changes in the relationship between state and church

Since the Middle Ages, the church has been the sponsor of many educational and social welfare institutions. In the 18th century at the latest, with absolutism and the Enlightenment, tendencies emerged that wanted to see the state in this role instead. As a result of secularization , which was implemented especially in the era of Napoleonic occupation, a new state self-image gradually emerged: From then on, the state saw itself as free from any religious affiliation and therefore wanted its civil and socio-cultural inner life free and without papal influence design. This state universal claim, however, soon collided with the objectives of the Catholic Church, which postulated a general binding force of Christian norms, i.e. also expected the state and society to adhere to their values. This conflict of interest, which continued to intensify in the 19th century with the emergence of liberalism and later socialism , was the main cause of the outbreak of the culture war that followed.

Such a development was not limited to Germany, but rather formed a pan-European phenomenon. There were similar disputes in Switzerland , Italy , Austria-Hungary, England , Belgium , France , Spain as well as Mexico and Brazil . Mostly influenced by whether liberal forces took over government responsibility, in some countries the clashes began in the pre- March period , in others they continued into the 20th century. Catholicism was often at the center of the conflict, because a particularly conservative form of Catholicism, so-called " ultramontanism ", wanted to achieve a unity of state and church under their primacy as well as a re-Catholicization of the world. This trend was also not undisputed within the Catholic Church. In the 19th century there were prominent Catholic clergymen and theologians who wanted to reform Catholicism comprehensively.

Aggravation of the conflict situation under Pius IX.

In light of the unification of Italy that the Papal States threatened and the temporal power of the Pope, made himself Pius IX. owns the conservative orientation of ultramontanism. In 1864 he published the Syllabus errorum ("Directory of Errors"), a list of 80 alleged errors of modernity in politics, culture and science. In it he condemned freedom of speech and religion as well as the separation of state and church. The first Vatican Council from 1869 to 1870 tried to strengthen papal authority by declaring the infallibility dogma to grant the Pope infallibility in questions of doctrine of faith and morals. Such principles proclaimed ex cathedra (from the cathedra , i.e. from the chair of the Pope) should therefore be irrevocable. However, these conservative measures, with which the Curia reacted to modern developments in the state and society, only exacerbated the conflict situation in the following. In the German states, papal politics aroused resentment, especially among the liberals, as they perceived the infallibility dogma as a violation of their freedom of expression and conscience. Already during the German War resentments against Catholics erupted in Silesia and Brandenburg in the form of violent excesses, the so-called " Catholic incitement ".

Shortly after the first Vatican Council, France withdrew its troops from Rome in the summer of 1870, as they were needed in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71. The Kingdom of Italy used this to occupy the Papal States . The previous papal residence Rome was proclaimed the capital of Italy and the Pope lost his previous territory. France, on the other hand, lost the war and could no longer be considered a protective power of the Pope. As a result of the war, the German Empire was founded under Prussian leadership . The newly founded German Empire consisted of 24 federal states (later the Reichsland Alsace-Lorraine was added), of which Prussia was by far the largest. These included the three Protestant-dominated Hanseatic cities of Hamburg , Bremen and Lübeck and 21 states with a monarchical constitution . Only two of the 21 ruling dynasties were Catholic, the Wittelsbachers in the Kingdom of Bavaria and the Wettins in the Kingdom of Saxony . The newly founded German Reich was a Protestant state, not least because of the dominance of Prussia.

In view of the looming unification of Germany under the leadership of Prussia and the abolition of the Papal States, the Catholics organized themselves in the Center Party from the end of 1870 and demanded that the rights of the churches vis-à-vis the state be preserved. The party not only met resistance from the liberals, who saw the Catholic Church as a haven of reaction and hostility to progress. Imperial Chancellor Otto von Bismarck viewed the center as a threat to state authority and the as yet poorly established internal imperial unity. For him, the politically organized Catholics, along with other minorities, for example Poles, Alsace-Lorrainers and Danes, were enemies of the empire. The politically organized Catholics were accused of "ultramontanism" because they obeyed Rome, which was "behind the mountains" ( ultra montes ).


Otto von Bismarck , Reich Chancellor and Prussian Prime Minister
“Between Berlin and Rome” - caricature representation of the Kulturkampf as a chess game between Bismarck and Pope Pius IX. Kladderadatsch , 1875.
Satirical drawing in Berlin Wasps by Bismarck as a knight based on Dürer's Ritter, Tod und Teufel , 1875

Chancellor Otto von Bismarck implemented a number of orders and laws that could be understood directly or indirectly as directed against the Catholic Church. Some of these laws were valid for the entire German Empire, others only for Prussia.

Measures at the national level

  • December 1871: In the “ pulpit paragraph ”, a Reich law amending the penal code, the clergy are forbidden from endangering “public peace”, as it was called, when making statements in their profession.
  • July 1872: The Jesuits are not allowed to establish branches in Germany ( Jesuit Law ).
  • February 1875: Civil marriage is introduced in the German Empire . The regulation in Prussia (see below) serves as a model.

Measures in Prussia

  • July 8, 1871: Bismarck dissolves the Catholic Department in the Prussian Ministry of Culture .
  • March 1872: The religious school supervision in Prussia is replaced by a state ( School Supervision Act ).
  • May Law 1873: The state controls the training and recruitment of clergy, elected community councils manage the church's assets.
  • January 1874: Before the law, only the marriage of the registry office is valid ( civil marriage ), no longer the ecclesiastical one. Anyone wishing to marry in church was only allowed to do so after the civil marriage (civil registry).
  • April 1875: The " Bread Basket Act " withdraws government grants from the church.
  • June 1875: The " Monastery Law " dissolves the monastery cooperatives in Prussia with the exception of the pure nursing orders , Roman Catholic religious are expelled.


When the conflict ended, 1,800 Catholic priests were arrested and church property worth 16 million so-called gold marks (the equivalent of 121 million euros ) was confiscated. Those convicted on the basis of these laws included the Archbishop of Posen Ledóchowski and the Trier Bishop Matthias Eberhard . Ledóchowski was sentenced to a maximum of two years. Eberhard was arrested as the second Prussian bishop on March 6, 1874 and sentenced to a fine of 130,000 marks and nine months in prison. He died six months after his release from prison at the height of the Kulturkampf. At the time of his death, 250 priests were on trial and 230 of 731 parishes in his diocese were vacant. The Bishop of Münster, Johannes Bernhard Brinkmann , fled into exile, the Prussian district administrators Heinrich von Droste zu Hülshoff and Clemens Friedrich Droste zu Hülshoff , who supported him, were deposed. On July 13, 1874, the Catholic craftsman Eduard Kullmann carried out an assassination attempt on Bismarck, who was only slightly injured.

The historian Manfred Görtemaker described it as inadmissible, as Pope Pius IX. to speak of persecution of the believers. It was much more about breaking or restricting the autonomy and independence of the churches. In addition, diplomatic relations with the Vatican were broken off in 1872 . In a speech in the Reichstag, Bismarck affirmed his intention not to give in to an inch in the conflict with the Catholic Church (“ We're not going to Canossa! ”).

End of the Kulturkampf (from 1878)

Otto von Bismarck did not achieve all of his political goals with the Kulturkampf. In 1878 the center had as many votes as the National Liberal Party (23.1%); In 1881 (23.2%) and 1884 (22.6%) it had the largest parliamentary group in the Reichstag, and Catholicism did not split, unlike when the Old Catholic Church was founded. In addition, many of Bismarck's supporters were outraged: the Protestant conservatives were also against civil marriage and the state school inspectorate ; the liberals saw fundamental rights at risk. Bismarck was ready to come to terms with the ecclesiastical forces after he had achieved at least a few political goals. Another reason for the end of the Kulturkampf was that Bismarck wanted to organize a majority for the Socialist Law in 1878 . For this he also needed the approval of the liberals.

Pius IX died in February 1878; Leo XIII. became his successor. In direct negotiations with the Curia, the tough laws were softened. In the summer of 1882 Prussia and the Vatican resumed diplomatic relations. The peace laws passed in 1886 (May 21) and 1887 (April 29) settled the conflict.

Leo XIII. on May 23, 1887 publicly declared the "struggle that damaged the Church and was of no use to the state" as ended.

Dimensions of the Kulturkampf

Historians have pointed out the different dimensions of the conflict over the past few decades.

Social dimension

The Mainz Bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler , co-founder of the Center Party

In the course of the 19th century, liberalism was mainly bourgeois-urban. The rural population, increasingly marginalized with advancing industrialization , only found an advocate in the clergy . The culture struggle therefore also has features of a class struggle . Here bourgeois merchants and industrialists faced a coalition of anti-liberal nobles , clergymen and the rural population, which was dominated by peasants.

The working class was simultaneously courted by ultramontans, liberals and socialists. At the suggestion of the Mainz “workers ' bishopKetteler in particular , numerous Christian social workers' associations were set up, which in the Ruhr area alone had 30,000 members in the mid-1870s. These charitable associations had union-like features and did not oppose strikes , for example . They suffered from the effects of the Kulturkampf and then (from 1878) under the Socialist Law ; they were driven into insignificance.

Political dimension

In 1867 in the North German Confederation and in 1871 in the German Empire, the general, equal male suffrage was introduced. This expansion of the electoral base brought rapid electoral success for Catholic parties. Liberal political forces saw their political influence threatened and tried to prevent the clergy from influencing Catholic voters. However, their efforts ensured a political mobilization of anti-liberal clergy and lay people.

Cultural dimension

According to the historian David Blackbourn , foreign cultural ways of life clashed in the German Kulturkampf. He demonstrates this in particular using the example of the apparitions of Mary in Marpingen in 1876/1877 . Three young girls reported that they had appeared several times in the Härtelwald in the Saarland village of Marpingen Maria . The apparitions, later revoked by the girls and not recognized by the Catholic Church, attracted thousands of pilgrims within a few days. Soon other children and adults reported seeing the apparition and there were reports of miraculous healings. The crowds caught the attention of the Prussian authorities, who soon cordoned off the area and deployed the military and courts to stop the stream of pilgrims to Marpingen.

Something similar had already happened during the pilgrimage to the Holy Rock kept in Trier , which took place in 1844. This display led to heated public debates. It was the trigger for Otto von Corvin's anticlerical book Pfaffenspiegel and Rudolf Löwenstein's mocking poem Freifrau von Droste-Vischering zum Heil'gen Rock nach Trier went in Kladderadatsch .

Consequences and evaluation

The Kulturkampf contributed to the separation of church and state . With the Weimar Constitution , the relationship between church and state was given its version that is still valid today. It is difficult to assess the extent to which the Kulturkampf changed the political climate in the 20th century; Central politicians were largely excluded from the decisive positions of power. Catholics could feel like second-class citizens especially until 1918. In Germany, the clashes between church and state were at times particularly fierce, but they also existed in other countries, not least in the mixed denominational ones such as the Netherlands, Switzerland and the USA.

The Jesuit law was not repealed until 1917, the pulpit section not until 1953 in the Federal Republic. Since January 1, 2009, a church marriage no longer has to be preceded by a civil marriage. In the meantime, however, marriage is associated with many rights of the economically weaker spouse, for example in the event of divorce , so the churches have no interest in promoting a purely church wedding and only allow it in exceptional cases. However, the School Supervision Act remains in effect.

Armin Heinen doubts the repeatedly expressed thesis that the liberals allowed themselves to be used as Bismarck's tool against the Catholic Church. Rather, important measures were the initiative of southern German Catholic liberals. "The Liberals forced Bismarck to a policy of separation of church and state, which he so did not want and Bismarck overran the Liberals with the criminal laws, but not to enforce anything." The real culture war in turn was on the field of journalism have been beaten, and before 1871.

The expression "Kulturkampf"

Concept emergence

The word "Kulturkampf" was used for the first time in 1840 in the Catholic magazine for theology published in Freiburg im Breisgau . It appears there in an anonymous review of a work by the radical Ludwig Snell on " The importance of the struggle between liberal Catholic Switzerland and the Roman Curia " and referred to the conflict between liberal Swiss Catholics and the Roman Curia in the article.

In the political conflict in Germany, Rudolf Virchow introduced the term by using it on January 17, 1873 in the Prussian House of Representatives , where he spoke in the deliberation of the draft law about the training and employment of clergy : “I am convinced that it is a matter here about a great culture war. ”In an election call for the Progress Party written by Virchow on March 23, 1873, he repeated the term. The term was ironically received and ridiculed by the Catholic press , and enthusiastically defended by the liberal press.

Current use

The word Kulturkampf is meanwhile also used in many other contexts. It generally denotes:

In September 2008 z. B. Fulda Bishop Heinz Josef Algermissen at a congress of the Forum of German Catholics that he sees the Catholics in Germany in a new culture war about “the real strengthening of the family” in view of the current discussion about gender mainstreaming and an alleged “propagation of homosexuality ” .

The Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik expressed in his trial and in an extensive “manifesto” the opinion that Western Europe would be gradually taken over by “ Marxists and multiculturalists ”. The press referred to this idea with the term Kulturkampf . Norwegian neo-Nazis supported Breivik's statement that Norway was in a cultural war with Islam.

See also


  • Manuel Borutta : Anti-Catholicism. Germany and Italy in the age of the European cultural struggles. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2011², ISBN 978-3-525-36849-7 .
  • Christopher Clark and Wolfram Kaiser (eds.): Kulturkampf in Europa in the 19th century. Leipziger Universitätsverlag, Leipzig 2003.
  • Georg Franz : Kulturkampf. State and Catholic Church in Central Europe. Georg DW Callwey, Munich 1954.
  • Georg Franz-Willing: Kulturkampf yesterday and today. A secular view 1871-1971. Georg DW Callwey, Munich 1971.
  • Rudolf Lill (ed.): The culture battle . Source texts on the history of Catholicism. Series A, Volume 10. Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn 1997.

Web links

Commons : Kulturkampf  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Topic page Religion  - Sources and full texts
Wiktionary: Kulturkampf  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. See, for example, Borutta, p. 21.
  2. a b Borutta, p. 11: Sources from Augustin Keller: In rei memoriam.
  3. Borutta, p. 13.
  4. a b Borutta, p. 15.
  5. The Kulturkampf. Ed. And ext. by Rudolf Lill with collabor. by Wolfgang Altgeld and Alexia K. Haus (Articles on Catholicism Research, Series A, Source Texts on the History of Catholicism, Vol. 10). Paderborn / Munich / Vienna / Zurich 1997, p. 39ff.
  6. ^ Manfred Görtemaker: Germany in the 19th century. Lines of development. Opladen 1983, pp. 277/278.
  7. Law on the certification of civil status and marriage , version dated February 6, 1875. Section 41 reads: "Within the territory of the German Reich, a marriage can only be legally concluded in front of the registrar."
  8. ^ Manfred Görtemaker: Germany in the 19th century. Lines of development. Opladen 1983, p. 279.
  9. ^ A b David Blackbourn: Marpingen. The German Lourdes in the Bismarckian era. Historical contributions from the Saarbrücken State Archives, Volume 6, Saarbrücken 2007, ISBN 978-3-9808556-8-6 , p. 128.
  10. ^ David Blackbourn: Marpingen. The German Lourdes in the Bismarckian era. Historical contributions from the Saarbrücken State Archives, Volume 6, Saarbrücken 2007, p. 129.
  11. ^ A b Manfred Görtemaker: Germany in the 19th century. Lines of development. Opladen 1983, p. 280.
  12. Otto Büsch , Wolfgang Neugebauer (Ed.): Handbook of Prussian History: From the Empire to the 20th Century , Volume III (2001). P. 104 f. ( Online )
  13. a b Borutta, p. 22.
  14. ^ Jürgen Aretz: Catholic labor movement and Christian trade unions. On the history of the Christian social movement. In: Anton Rauscher (ed.): The social and political Catholicism. Lines of development in Germany 1803–1963. Vol. 2, Landsberg am Lech 1982, p. 163; Herbert Hömig: Catholics and the trade union movement 1890–1945. Paderborn et al. 2003, p. 11 f .; Klaus Tenfelde: The emergence of the German trade union movement. From the pre-March to the end of the Socialist Law. In: History of the German trade unions from the beginning until 1945. Cologne 1987, p. 119.
  15. See David Blackbourn : Marpingen. The German Lourdes in the Bismarckian era. Historical contributions from the Saarbrücken State Archives, Volume 6, Saarbrücken 2007, ISBN 978-3-9808556-8-6 .
  16. Armin Heinen: Controversial Modernity. The Liberals and the Prussian-German Kulturkampf. In: History and Society . 29th vol. (2003), No. 1, pp. 138-156, pp. 140, 143/144.
  17. ^ Heinrich August Winkler: The long way to the west. German history 1806–1933. Munich 2000, p. 222.
  18. ^ Karl Bachem: Prehistory, history and politics of the German Center Party. Vol. III, 1927, pp. 268-269.
  19. ^ A b Karl Bachem: Prehistory, history and politics of the German Center Party. Vol. III, 1927, p. 269.
  20. See Duden online: Kulturkampf
  21. Gernot Facius: Catholics loyal to the Pope see Germany in the Kulturkampf . In: The world . September 15, 2008 ( online [accessed September 16, 2008]).
  22. Karl Ritter: Breivik refers in a statement to German NSU welt.de, April 17, 2012.
  23. Fabian Virchow : Breiviks profane Apokalypsen zeit.de, July 26, 2011.
  24. ^ Neo-Nazi on the witness stand warns of "extermination" welt.de, June 5, 2012.