Imperial Church

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The term Reichskirche is applied to different phases and regions of history between state and church . It describes a close ideal, institutional and personal connection between a political system of rule and the Christian church widespread in the relevant area. The church is subordinate to state or monarchical authority, morally legitimizes it and is materially secured and promoted by it.

Roman imperial church

The union of worldly power and spiritual authority was mainly known in antiquity through the Egyptian pharaoh , who was the highest priest, god and worldly ruler of his state. This tendency was also evident in the ancient Orient . In the Roman Empire Julius Caesar combined the functions of head of state and pontifex maximus (highest priest). This personal union was also always maintained by the Roman emperors from Augustus (from 12 BC) onwards. In addition to the title imperator as a designation of secular power, the title Augustus ("the sublime"), with which the claim to veneration in the Roman imperial period, appeared and adoration of the emperor was raised during his lifetime. The refusal of many Christians to perform this form of veneration of the head of state gave rise to the first disputes with the Roman state.

After all, at the beginning of the 4th century, Constantine the Great was the first Roman emperor to officially privilege Christianity. As early as 313, he and Emperor Licinius declared in the Milan Agreement (often incorrectly referred to as the “Edict of Tolerance”) that from now on he wanted to grant Christians and all citizens of the empire full religious freedom. In the following years he further promoted Christianity and thus ensured the Constantinian turning point in Roman religious policy that was named after him . After his death in 337, his sons, especially Constantius II , continued to promote Christianity and thus also discriminate against paganism.

An essential step towards the Roman imperial church was finally the Edict of the Three Emperors from the year 380, which declared the Roman-Alexandrian Trinitarian faith to be the official religion of the Roman Empire in order to end the intra-Christian disputes, and the Edict of 391, in which Theodosius I the pagan Cults forbade. Thus the Roman Catholic Church had finally become the Imperial Church. According to today's view of many researchers, however, it was only Justinian I who actually enforced Christianity against paganism in the Roman Empire in the middle of the 6th century.

Christianity had thus taken on the political function as a link between the parts of the world empire, which was previously perceived by the Roman religion . Turning to the Christian religion became a civic duty. The Roman emperor, for his part, saw the promotion of a unified church as his duty, since he saw in the imperial church the strength against a further fragmentation of the empire.

The consequences were, among other things, the imperial convocation of councils , imperial influence on dogmas and the strengthening of the authority of the bishops. The latter in particular meant that a largely intact legal and administrative structure in the form of the Roman Church was retained even after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire .

After the loss of the Western Roman co-emperors, the Roman emperors in Constantinople were again the only legitimate rulers on formerly Roman territory, which also weakened the position of the popes in Rome vis-à-vis their fellow patriarchs in Constantinople. After the end of the unity of the empire, Pope Gelasius I opposed the two-sword theory to Emperor Anastasios I at the end of the 5th century , and at the latest through the separation from the Eastern Roman Church ( Oriental Schism 1054 ), both the unity of the imperial territory as the unity of church and state is finally over.

Imperial Church System in the Holy Roman Empire

The medieval Roman-German kings had to realize that the feudal system was not enough to administer the land, as there was a tendency among the vassals to transform feudal property into hereditary property and thus to withdraw it from the control of the king. Therefore the kings and emperors started to enfeoff bishops with territories and rights, since they had to remain childless, which did not pose the problem of heredity. As a rule, to reinforce the principle, the emperor took great care to appoint a man to be bishop of one area who was from another area. All secular and regional forces, the dukes, counts and noble landowners, who opposed the emperor's claim to power, inevitably threatened the interests of the bishop who was dependent on the monarch. This relationship became problematic when the church reform of Cluny took the pastoral mandate of the church more seriously and demanded that clergymen - including the bishops - be appointed independently of secular rulers. This led to bitter disputes between Pope and Emperor , the investiture controversy (see also De civitate Dei ).

The interdependence between empire and church remained close, however, since almost all German bishops and many abbots were imperial princes from Otto the Great up to the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss 1803.

German Reich Church (National Socialism)

The national religious movement German Christians (DC), which emerged within Protestantism in the Weimar Republic , deeply welcomed the rise of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German state. The DC installed the Reich Bishop Ludwig Müller and proclaimed the Reich Church, in which all Protestant regional and denominational churches should be incorporated. They set out the program of the same circuit as its own by the impeachment did not conform to the system clergyman and the application of the Aryan paragraph calling for the church, beyond the Old Testament and all "alien" customs set aside. The imperial church failed. The numerically vanishing Confessing Church played a far smaller role than the ideology of National Socialism itself, whose representatives Heinrich Himmler or Alfred Rosenberg soon openly proclaimed the policy of eliminating all independent movements (and thus also the church).


  • Ernst Dassmann: Church History II / 1. Constantine turn and late antique imperial church (= study books theology. Volume II, 1). W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1996.
  • Ernst Dassmann: Church History II / 2. Theology and life within the church up to the end of late antiquity (= study books theology. Volume II, 2). W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1999 (on the late antique imperial church).
  • Rudolf Schieffer : Imperial Church . In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages (LexMA). Volume 7, LexMA-Verlag, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-7608-8907-7 , Sp. 626-628.

Individual evidence

  1. Jan Dhondt : The early Middle Ages (= Fischer Weltgeschichte . Volume 10). Fischer Taschenbuch, Frankfurt am Main 1968, p. 201.