Sovereign church regiment

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The sovereign church regiment or summit episcopate is an expression from German legal and church history . It describes the power (the regiment ) of the owner of the territorial power (the sovereign ) over the Protestant church system in his territory until 1918.


The beginnings of the sovereign church regiment can already be found in the pre-Reformation period. Due to the criticism-worthy conditions in the imperial church of the late Middle Ages, for example with regard to the way of life and service attitude of the bishops and pastor priests, many German sovereigns and city councilors dared to intervene well before Martin Luther's appearance in what was understood at the time to actually be ecclesiastical areas such as parsonage and spiritual jurisdiction.

At the beginning of the Reformation there were two competing ideas of the church leadership in Hesse and in Electoral Saxony . In Hesse, Luther rejected the synodal concept. In Electorate of Saxony he asked the elector for sovereign supervision of the church, but initially thought of a transitional and emergency solution. But there was nothing to be noticed in the electoral visitation instructions. The leadership of the church was initially exercised by commissions, later officially by a consistory . The entire church and school system was checked in church and school visits.

After the unity of church and empire threatened to break up with the Reformation , the Augsburg religious peace maintained at least the religious unity within the individual territories through the principle of cuius regio, eius religio ("whose country, whose faith") determined the religious affiliation of the subjects after that of the sovereign. The Peace of Westphalia extended this principle from Catholics and Lutherans to the previously unrecognized Reformed .

Although it among the reformers different approaches on church and state was, the view prevailed that at least until further notice, the Prince and the Council of Empire City as membra praecipua Ecclesiae (outstanding members of the Church) as emergency bishops to look at, would be the hold the leadership function in their respective church system (today's regional churches ).

What was intended as an emergency solution to a comprehensive reorganization by a council , however, developed into a long-lasting instrument in the Protestant churches, which only ended in 1918.


Three phases of the sovereign church regiment can be distinguished, each of which can be characterized by contemporary legal theories:

  • According to the theory of episcopalism , which had its main exponents in the 16th and 17th centuries, the rule of the sovereign in his church was an ecclesiastical right, namely the jurisdiction of the Catholic bishops, which had been transferred to him by Article 20 of the Peace of Augsburg . According to this view, the church government was only transferred to the prince in trust and was not identical with the state authority. Episcopalism made it possible to separate state and church authorities even before the end of the sovereign church regiment and to see a personal connection only in the person of the monarch.
  • In contrast, the absolutist understanding of the state in the 18th century was approached by the theory of territorialism , according to which the church government was part of the rule of the sovereign in all areas of life in his territory. According to this theory, the sovereign was no longer bound to the advice and participation of the clergy when exercising church regiment.
  • Influenced by the enlightenment idea of ​​the social contract , the theory of collegialism finally emerged . According to her, the churches were religious societies ( collegia ), whose members were entitled to a certain degree of autonomy. The sovereign was thus a mere "association board", whose function was to be strictly separated from the state. Because of its comparability to corporate law structures, this understanding finally caught on in legal science. Even today, the designation of the religious communities as "religious societies" in the articles of the Weimar Imperial Constitution incorporated into the Basic Law reminds of this theory. Of course, the secular model of the association did not match the church's self-image.

Ius in sacra - Ius circa sacra

In the 19th century, in the course of social and legal developments, not least triggered by the changes in the area of ​​the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss and the coalition wars , a momentous distinction emerged. A distinction should be made between the church regiment

  • ius in sacra , the right of the sovereign as summus episcopus (supreme bishop) to regulate the internal affairs of the evangelical church of his territory. This includes in particular the order of the divine service (ius liturgicum) through agendas and hymn books, but also the right to order church union . As a rule, the sovereign is dependent on the cooperation of the clergy. This right was a major point of contention in the agenda dispute .
  • ius circa sacra , the supervisory right of the sovereign as state sovereign over all religious societies on his territory. This includes, among other things, the design of the prerequisites for clerical office, questions of salaries and building maintenance as well as the supervision of the participation of religious societies in public life. The extent to which this right was allowed to intervene in the self-understanding of religious societies was not so much disputed in the Protestant Church, but all the more in the culture war with the Roman Catholic Church.

Institutions and Practice

The most important institutions of the sovereign church regiment were the consistory as the church supervisory authority and the superintendent as the superior of the pastorate. The dilemma of the construct became particularly clear in his person: as part of the pastors bound by their oath of ordination , he faced the prince, but at the same time he was a princely official and represented them vis-à-vis the pastors.

In the city parishes, there was also the ministry of the clergy as the general representative of the pastorate with the elected senior at the head, who ensured that his rights of consultation and participation, something with the publication of agendas and hymn books as well as with questions of public morality, also existed were preserved.

The End

The sovereign church regiment came to an end with the provisions of the Weimar Constitution in Article 137 on the church's right to self-determination . The church leadership went over to the synods ; the consistories became purely ecclesiastical authorities.


  • Albrecht Geck : Church independence movement in Prussia at the beginning of the 19th century. In: Yearbook for Westphalian Church History. 90, 1996, ISSN  0341-9886 , pp. 95-119.
  • Albrecht Geck: Schleiermacher as a church politician. The disputes over the reform of the church constitution in Prussia (1799–1823) (= Unio and Confessio 20). Luther-Verlag, Bielefeld 1997, ISBN 3-7858-0370-2 (also: Münster, Univ., Diss., 1993-1994).
  • Johannes Heckel : Cura religionis lus in sacra - lus circa sacra. In: Festschrift Ulrich Stutz on his seventieth birthday (= canon law treatises. 117/118, ZDB -ID 501637-x ). Offered by students, friends and admirers. Enke, Stuttgart 1938, pp. 224-298 (special edition, unchanged photomechanical reprint, 2nd edition. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1962 ( Libelli. 49, ZDB -ID 846543-5 )).
  • Martin Heckel: ban on religion and sovereign church regiment. In: Hans-Christoph Rublack (Ed.): The Lutheran confessionalization in Germany. Scientific symposium of the Association for Reformation History 1988 (= writings of the Association for Reformation History . 197 = Scientific Symposium of the Association for Reformation History. 6). Mohn, Gütersloh 1992, ISBN 3-579-01665-2 , pp. 130-162.
  • Ernst Mayer : The sovereign rights of the King of Bavaria in the Church. Award typeface awarded by the Law Faculty of the University of Munich. M. Rieger'sche Universitäts-Buchhandlung, Munich 1884 (also: Munich, Univ., Diss. 1884).
  • Otto Mejer : sovereign church regiment. In: Prussian year books. 58, 1886, ISSN  0934-0688 , pp. 468-488.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Johannes Wallmann : Church history in Germany since the Reformation. 7th edition. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2012 (UTB; 1355), ISBN 978-3-8252-3731-8 , p. 62 f.