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As a secularization which is originally state recruitment or use of church referred possessions (land and other assets). In a narrower sense, it is understood to mean secularization during the Napoleonic era (i.e. from 1799 to 1821 ), in which two forms can be distinguished: on the one hand, the abolition of church institutions, abbeys and monasteries and the nationalization of their property (confiscation of church property), on the other hand, the Incorporation ( annexation ) of the spiritual principalities and dominions of the Holy Roman Empire by larger territorial states.

In a broader sense, secularization is generally understood to mean turning away from religion and religious values ​​as a social development; however, the term secularization is used for this.


The term is derived from the Latin saeculum "century" and generally describes a change to the "temporal" and worldly. The French ambassador Henri II d'Orléans-Longueville used the verb séculariser as a term for the expropriation of church property on May 8, 1646 during the negotiations for the Peace of Westphalia in Münster . He used it to describe the transition from Catholic property to Protestant property.

The Latin noun saecularisatio was already in use in 1559, the corresponding verb in 1586. At that time, however , the Latin saecularisatio did not refer to church property, but referred to the transition from members of the communal clergy of the episcopal churches to single cathedral capitulars . The outsourcing of church property was called profanatio sacrae rei at that time .

Secularization before the French Revolution

England from 1535

Henry VIII , King of England, had the English monasteries dissolved from 1538 in the course of the royal act of supremacy of 1535 and confiscated their property. Over a hundred former monastery churches remained in use as parish churches, and 14 became cathedrals. As part of the campaign against superstition, many relics and statues of saints were destroyed and melted down. Large abbeys and pilgrimage sites such as Glastonbury Abbey , Walsingham , St Edmund Abbey and Shaftesbury Abbey were in ruins. The monasteries were also dissolved in the Lordship of Ireland and Wales .

Saxony from 1539

After taking over the government on April 17, 1535, the Saxon Duke Heinrich had the first Protestant service held in the Dresden Castle Church on April 23, 1539. Solemn services in Leipzig and in the Dresden Kreuzkirche followed. During an extensive church visit from December 1539 to July 1540, Heinrich had all ecclesiastical properties secularized and monasteries closed. In November 1539 he set up a state committee for the use of the secularized church property in the state parliament in Chemnitz and thus left the decision on the use to the state estates. After Heinrich's death in 1541, his son Moritz regained control of the secularized church and monastery property and had it partly sold and partly managed by sovereign bailiffs .

Holy Roman Empire after the Reformation

As a result of the Reformation and the conflicts of the Thirty Years' War , the Archbishopric Magdeburg , the Bishopric Halberstadt , the Bishopric Bremen , the Bishopric Minden and the Bishopric Schwerin were transformed into secular principalities in the area of ​​the Holy Roman Empire by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 .

Bavaria from 1608

In the 16th century, Duke Maximilian I set up an ecclesiastical council for church supervision on the basis of the superiority of the state. From 1608, the elector claimed the right of patronage if the donors and monasteries were unclear about this. In 1743, the Bavarian Elector Karl Albrecht , who was elected emperor, proposed to the Habsburg Maria Theresa to enlarge Austria and especially Bavaria through the secularization and incorporation of prince bishoprics. Maria Theresa rejected this as a great injustice.

As part of the repeal of the Jesuit order by Pope Clement XIV (1773), the goods of the Jesuit order located in Bavaria were made available to the electoral school fund on the instructions of the Pope. In 1778 a prelate in Aschaffenburg succeeded in secularization: the Prince Archbishop of Mainz moved in the cloister garden of a Capuchin monastery for only a small amount of compensation and used it as a palace garden and as a wooden courtyard for his secular bishopric government. In 1783 Pope Pius VI voted . to the application of the Elector Palatinate-Bavarian Elector Karl Theodor for the abolition of the Premonstratensian Abbey of Osterhofen and the Augustinian Canons of Indersdorf. In 1787, the Prince-Bishop of Bamberg made a visitation decree to the Cistercian Abbey of Langheim that it was possible to abolish the monasteries and that the accusation of love of splendor should therefore be avoided. In 1789, the lawyer Maximilian von Montgelas wrote a memorandum in which he considered secularization to be economically desirable and legally permissible due to the Peace of Westphalia. 56 BC H. of the farms had come into the ecclesiastical ownership, and this concentration was damaging commercial traffic.


Emperor Joseph II , ruler of enlightened absolutism , dissolved numerous monasteries and churches before the French Revolution and confiscated their property. Of 915 monasteries (762 men, 153 women) that existed in Austria (including Bohemia, Moravia and Galicia) in 1780, only 388 have survived.

Secularization in the age of Napoleon


The secularization in France at the end of the 18th century and at the beginning of the 19th century can be traced back to debates during the Enlightenment . It is the most comprehensive that has taken place so far. Almost all ecclesiastical imperial estates were dissolved and almost 95,000 km² of land, on which more than 3 million people lived, changed their ruler or owner.

The French National Assembly decided at the beginning of the French Revolution on November 2, 1789 in a decree ( Décret des biens du clergé mis à la disposition de la Nation ), based on a proposal by the Member of the National Assembly and later Napoleon's Foreign Minister, Bishop Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord , the nationalization of church property and thus the de facto expropriation of the Catholic Church . The background was massive efforts to counteract the financial crisis of the French state, which was mainly due to the above-mentioned costly French participation in the American War of Independence . The priests, like the civil servants, from then on received state pay and had to take an oath on the nation and the new constitution. Thus, at the beginning of the French Revolution, the supremacy of the clergy was ended by the abolition of the old estates . With the expropriation of the church's property, the economic and political power of the church was considerably curtailed.

Only with the between Napoleon Bonaparte and Pope Pius VII. Closed Concordat of 1801 there were at least formally again to reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the French State.

Departments on the left bank of the Rhine in Germany 1802

In contrast to the area on the right bank of the Rhine, secularization took place in 1802 in the four departments on the left bank of the Rhine , which had existed since 1798 and had been awarded to France in the Peace of Lunéville in 1801 . The basis of the secularization was the Concordat concluded in 1801 , in which the canonical approval of the secularization was given. Thereafter, on June 9, 1802, with a consular decision ("Arreté des Consuls") - in the legal sense an ordinance - the church conditions were reorganized; With the exception of the dioceses and parishes, almost all religious institutions were abolished and their property transferred to the French state.

According to a consular resolution, all monks / nuns with roots on the left bank of the Rhine received an annual pension of 500 (for those under 60) or 600 Francs (from 60 years). Those monks / nuns who originally came from areas on the right bank of the Rhine had to leave the areas on the left bank and received a one-off 150 francs for the cost of their trip.

In order to improve the finances of the French state, the secularized goods were auctioned in the following years and mostly went to private buyers. The ecclesiastical imperial estates were also abolished and their property was nationalized.

Areas on the right bank of the Rhine 1803

By shifting the French eastern border, German territorial rulers had suffered territorial losses. The ecclesiastical imperial estates (the ecclesiastical principalities ) and most imperial cities (in this case one speaks of mediatization ) were added to them as compensation in the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss of 1803 .

Article 35 of the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss even went beyond mere compensation. The buildings and goods of the abolished monasteries , abbeys and monasteries were placed under the disposition (power of disposal) of the sovereigns. This also allowed rulers who had not suffered a loss of territory to confiscate church goods for their benefit and to relieve their finances.

The Reichsdeputationshauptschluss affected the clerical electoral principalities of Cologne and Trier , the archbishopric of Salzburg and the archbishopric of Olmütz , Augsburg , Bamberg , Basel , Breslau , Brixen , Chur , Corvey , Eichstätt , Freising , Fulda , Hildesheim , Konstanz , Lübeck , Lüttich , Münster , Osnabrück , Paderborn , Passau , Regensburg , Speyer , Trient , Worms and Würzburg . Also all other ecclesiastical principalities, to which z. B. the imperial abbeys and the other imperial monasteries were dissolved.

Only Kurmainz , whose remaining territory on the right bank of the Rhine was transferred to the Principality of Aschaffenburg , was not dissolved. Karl Theodor von Dalberg , the last Archbishop of Mainz, remained as Arch Chancellor of the empire.

Political Consequences

Many of the church's possessions, including rural monasteries or the previous prince-bishop's residences, were expropriated and fell to secular rulers. In particular, the King of Prussia , the Elector of Bavaria , the Duke of Württemberg , the Margrave of Baden and the Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt benefited from the secularization. In Baden alone, the land area quadrupled and the number of inhabitants quintupled due to the land gain. Württemberg was able to double its area and population.

As a result of the expropriation of church goods, the Catholic Church in particular (but not only) lost a large part of its secular power.

Social consequences

Above all, the secular service personnel in the monastery and the craftsmen and tradespeople who were directly dependent on the monastery lost their jobs and fell into threatening poverty.

The expropriated - sometimes very large - real estate was often added directly to the sovereign or state or brought into foundations in order to continue serving the previous purpose. The financial consequences of the expropriations are still a problem under state church law in the form of state benefits .

Cultural consequences

With the dissolution of the ecclesiastical institutions, their buildings and movable property were no longer needed for their original purpose. The expropriated monasteries could partly be taken over as state buildings (e.g. prisons), partly they were auctioned off with the highest bidder. Many of them were sold for demolition; That is, they were torn down by the buyer and the material was used for other purposes, especially the churches, which could not be used for other purposes, were affected. In the best case, a former monastery church could continue to be used as a parish church, e.g. B. the church of Prüm Abbey in the Eifel, which is still a parish church today. Works of art and liturgical implements were also given to other churches in some cases, but much of it was also destroyed because there were far more objects available than were needed.

However, the dissolution also had consequences for the libraries and archives of the monasteries, which were often scattered to the wind. At the same time, however, the first private collections of valuable books, manuscripts and works of art were created, some of which later came back into the public domain and formed the basis for archives and libraries; in some cases these collectors were themselves former members of a church institution, e.g. B. Ferdinand Franz Wallraf in Cologne .

See also


  • Marcel Albert: The commemorative events for the 200th anniversary of secularization 1803–2003. A critical review , in: Römische Viertelschrift 100 (2005) pp. 240–274.
  • Christian Bartz: The secularization of Laach Abbey in 1802. A case study. in: Rheinische Vierteljahrsblätter 62 (1998), pp. 238–307.
  • Paul Fabianek: Consequences of secularization for the monasteries in the Rhineland. Using the example of the Schwarzenbroich and Kornelimünster monasteries. Verlag BoD, 2012, ISBN 978-3-8482-1795-3 .
  • Reiner Groß: History of Saxony. Berlin, 2001 (4th edition 2012, ISBN 978-3-361-00674-4 ).
  • Volker Himmelein (ed.): Old monasteries, new masters. The secularization in the German southwest 1803. Large state exhibition Baden-Württemberg 2003 . Thorbecke, Ostfildern 2003, ISBN 3-7995-0212-2 (exhibition catalog and essay volume).
  • Georg Mölich, Joachim Oepen, Wolfgang Rosen (Ed.): Monastery culture and secularization in the Rhineland . Klartext Verlag, Essen 2002, ISBN 978-3-89861-099-5 .
  • Isa Lübbers, Martin Rößler, Joachim Stüben (eds.): Secularization - a world-historical process in Hamburg , Peter Lang GmbH, Frankfurt / M. 2017, ISBN 978-3-631-67547-2 .
  • Winfried Müller : A special Bavarian path? The secularization in Germany on the left and right of the Rhine , in: The secularization in Bavaria 1803. Cultural break or modernization? ed. by Alois Schmid . Munich: CH Beck 2003, pp. 317–334 (ISBN 978-3406106o44)
  • Winfried Müller : The secularization of 1803 , in: Handbook of Bavarian Church History, Bd. 3, ed. by Walter Brandmüller . St. Ottilien: Eos Verlag 1991, pp. 1-84.
  • Winfried Müller : Between secularization and concordat. The reorganization of the relationship between state and church 1803–1821 , in: Handbuch der Bayerischen Kirchengeschichte, vol. 3, ed. by Walter Brandmüller. St. Ottilien: Eos Verlag 1991, pp. 85–129.
  • Alfons Maria Scheglmann : History of the secularization in Bavaria on the right bank of the Rhine. 3 volumes, Habbel, Regensburg 1903–1908.
  • Rudolf Schlögl : Faith and Religion in Secularization. The Catholic city - Cologne, Aachen, Münster - 1740–1840. Munich 1995.
  • Dietmar Stutzer: The secularization 1803. The storm on Bavaria's churches and monasteries. Rosenheim publishing house Alfred Förg, 1976, ISBN 3-475-52237-3 .
  • Hermann Uhrig: The compatibility of Art. VII of the Peace of Lunéville with the Imperial Constitution , 5 volumes, 2789 pages, Verlag Traugott Bautz Nordhausen 2014 ( ISBN 978-3-88309-862-3 , plus expanded Jur. Diss. Tübingen 2011 , urn : nbn: de: bsz: 21-opus-56749 ).
  • Eberhard Weis: Montgelas . First volume. Between revolution and reform 1759–1799 . 2nd Edition. Beck, Munich 1988, ISBN 978-3-406-32974-6 .
  • Matthias Wemhoff : Secularization and a new beginning . Schnell & Steiner, Regensburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-7954-1963-9 (on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition in the Regional Association of Westphalia-Lippe-State Museum for Monastery Culture in Dalheim Monastery ).

Web links

Wiktionary: Secularization  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Marie-Luisa Frick, Andreas Oberprantacher (University of Innsbruck): Return of the repressed? The 'crisis' of the secularization thesis as reflected in current debates about the phenomenon of 'religion' in Europe. Innsbruck Discussion Papers on World Order, Religion and Violence, No. 24, 2008 ( title recording at ULB Tirol with PDF download ), p. 4: there with reference to the article Secularization, Secularization in Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe , Volume 5 (1984), p 794 f.
  2. Groß, pp. 53-55.
  3. Scheglmann I, p. 2.
  4. Scheglmann I, p. 3 ( digitized version ).
  5. Scheglmann I, p. 51.
  6. Scheglmann I, p. 48.
  7. Scheglmann I, pp. 61–72.
  8. Scheglmann I, p. 74.
  9. Weis, Montgelas I, pp. 121-125.
  10. ^ Article in the French Wikipedia.
  11. ^ Paul Fabianek: Consequences of secularization for the monasteries in the Rhineland. Using the example of the Schwarzenbroich and Kornelimünster monasteries. Verlag BoD 2012, ISBN 978-3-8482-1795-3 , p. 6 and annex (decree "Le décret des biens du clergé mis à la disposition de la Nation")
  12. ^ Wilhelm Janssen : Small Rhenish History , p. 261.
  13. ^ Eduard Hegel : History of the Archdiocese of Cologne . Vol. IV, pp. 487-521.
  14. ^ Paul Fabianek: Consequences of secularization for the monasteries in the Rhineland. Using the example of the Schwarzenbroich and Kornelimünster monasteries . Verlag BoD 2012, ISBN 978-3-8482-1795-3 , p. 13 with annex (consular decision “Arrêté portant suppression des ordres monastiques et congrégations régulières dans les départemens de la Sarre, de la Roër, de Thin-et-Moselle et du Mont-Tonnerre ")
  15. Wolfgang Schieder (Ed.): Secularization and Mediatization in the Four Rhenish Departments 1803-1813 . Part V / 1 and V / II Roerdepartement.
  16. ^ Georg Mölich, Joachim Oepen, Wolfgang Rosen (ed.): Monastery culture and secularization in the Rhineland. Essen 2002, pp. 20–21.
  17. cf. Bettina Braun, Mareike Menne, Michael Ströhmer (eds.): Spiritual princes and spiritual states in the late phase of the Old Kingdom. Bibliotheca Academica, Epfendorf / Neckar 2008, ISBN 978-3-928471-72-5 .