Religious war

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Paris during St. Bartholomew's Night. Contemporary painting by François Dubois: Le massacre de la Saint-Barthélemy

A war of religion , more rarely a war of faith , is generally understood to mean a war that is waged for reasons of religion . These include the expansion wars of Islam up to the 8th century, the crusades and the Albigensian wars of the Middle Ages. In a narrower sense, religious wars are used to describe the denominational wars in the 16th and 17th centuries. These include in particular the Huguenot Wars in France and in the German Empire the Schmalkaldic War (1546–1547), the uprising of the Protestant princes (1552) and, above all, the Thirty Years War (1618–1648). The demarcation is difficult because, on the one hand, until the modern era, most wars were associated with religious ideas or forms of expression; on the other hand, even the religious wars in the narrower sense had other than just religious motives.

Islamic expansion

In what follows, Islamic expansion describes the Arabs' policy of conquest from the mid-630s and the associated expansion of Islam into the 8th century. With the beginning of Islamic expansion, the end of antiquity is often set.

The crusades

The Crusades dragged on from the late 11th century to the 13th century, including both the Holy Land and parts of Europe as battlefields.

Wars of religion inside

The history of the European nations knows, however, precisely at the time of the emergence of the nations in the narrower sense of the word disputes that originated as religious wars or at least were called religious wars.

Schmalkaldic War

The founding of the Narrow Kaldic League , a defensive alliance of Protestant princes and cities in 1531, which was directed against the religious policy of the Catholic Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire , ultimately led to a war between the two parties from 1546 to 1547, the ended with the defeat of the Confederation and its dissolution.

The eight Huguenot Wars

The eight Huguenot Wars (1562 to 1598) were also collectively referred to as the "Forty Years War". In the sixteenth century France was divided into two religious camps: the vast majority of the population remained Catholic; a large minority joined the Reformation. A peaceful coexistence of the two denominations proved impossible; there were armed conflicts; Civil wars were often the result, especially in areas with mixed faith groups.

The eight open wars were only interrupted by unsustainable peace agreements. Only the Edict of Nantes (April 30, 1598) really brought peace; it imposed limited religious tolerance. Denominational coexistence was restricted in the 17th century in favor of Catholics and abolished in 1685 by the Edict of Fontainebleau , which revoked the Edict of Nantes.

(See also Bartholomew Night ).

The publicist Klaus Harpprecht wrote about religious wars with a view to the Huguenot Wars:

“[Henry IV] brought… France from 1594… to 1610… an era of inner peace. A time in which the farmers could work their fields without the fear that tomorrow the ripening harvest would be pounded into the ground by one or the other army. A grace period in which the craft flourished again, the cities were no longer surrendered to looting by the Catholic or Protestant Soldateska.

[...] a sigh of relief after almost forty years in which the country was at the mercy of the wars of religion, a cruel quarrel that broke out again and again because each party and each of their military leaders only used the laboriously tinkered, sometimes hastily improvised peace agreements as an opportunity to prepare the next armed forces.

The pathos of the preachers - regardless of whether it resounded from Protestant or Catholic pulpits - and the fistulous zeal of religious fanatics camouflaged greed for prey and sheer lust for murder with the claim of legitimacy that stems from faith.

Anyone who is naive enough today to regard the piously draped terror of the Islamists as an unprecedented aberration should read the history of the European wars of religion, to what beastly slaughter, to what absurd horrors, to what devastation and annihilation rage the Catholic as well as the Protestant Hosts in the name of God were capable! "

The Thirty-Year War

The Thirty Years' War ( 1618 - 1648 ) was triggered by the efforts of the Emperor Ferdinand II to counter the Reformation . Several Protestant states and rulers united against this. Primarily it was about the decision for the Protestant or Catholic denomination , in the background were the political interests of the imperial princes and the European neighboring states to expand their respective spheres of rule and influence. For example, Catholic France under the leadership of Cardinal Richelieu under Louis XIII provided support. the Protestant side out of power interests. The Peace of Westphalia , which ended the Eighty Years' War at the age of thirty , contributed to long-term stability in Europe.


The First and Second Kappel Wars were wars in Switzerland at the time of the Reformation. The Sonderbund War was the last war on Swiss territory and was essentially also based on religion.

Connection between religion and (foreign) policy

In large parts of the world there were and are religions that assume the character of a generally binding state religion . The connection between state and religion has become particularly aggressive in history when missionary religious zeal and imperialist state or social tendencies met. A classic example may be the crusades led by various European rulers and states against Islam as a result of papal calls in the Middle Ages , as well as the conquests led by rulers and states from the early and high Middle Ages to modern times . In the case of the crusades, the main motivation was the “liberation” of the “holy land” from the rule of the infidels, but concrete political and economic interests were also at stake, such as the commercial interests of the Republic of Venice in the western Mediterranean. Today it is difficult to decide whether religion or political and economic interests were in the foreground in these examples.

Religion as a means of warfare

In wars of religion, religion not only serves as a means of propaganda , but religious promises are also used by the warring states to motivate their own people, especially the soldiers participating in the fight . Material victims of war are equated with religious sacrifices, which leads to a greater willingness to accept material disadvantages (shortage of food etc., increase in taxes and duties). The fighters in particular are promised religious advantages. For example

The pastoral care of religious members by field chaplains can not be compared with this instrumentalization of religion by warring states or other powers . This care has become common in the modern wars in Europe; it is used to enable soldiers and other members of the armed forces to practice their religion (e.g. confession , Sunday worship ).

The position of the high religions in relation to war and peace is determined by Helmuth von Glasenapp in his work on faith and rites of high religions.

See also


  • Friedrich Beiderbeck: Between the religious war, the imperial crisis and the European struggle for hegemony. 1st edition. Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag, 2006, ISBN 3-8305-0024-6 .
  • Christian Mühling: The European Debate on the War of Religion (1679-1714). Confessional memoria and international politics in the age of Ludwig XIV. (Publications of the Institute for European History Mainz, 250) Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2018, ISBN 978-3-525-31054-0 .
  • Tariq Ali : The Clash of Fundamentalisms, Crusades, Jihads and Modernity. Verso, London / New York 2002 ( review: ).
  • Konrad Repgen : What is a religious war? In: Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte , 97, 1986, 3, pp. 334–349.
  • Mirjam Pressler : Nathan and his children.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Virtual Museum of Protestantism
  2. ^ Virtual Museum of Protestantism
  3. Klaus Harpprecht : Warrior and peacemaker, legendary lover and enthusiastic father: France still loves its "good king" Henry IV, who was murdered on May 14, 1610 in Paris. A picture of the life of the vital monarch . In: Die Zeit , No. 20/2010, p. 22
  4. Faith and Rite of the High Religions. S. Fischer, Fischer Bücherei 346, Frankfurt am Main 1960, p. 149.