Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Most Definitely NOT Wars of Religion


Emperors, kings, and princes were expected to use their power to defend the vulnerable, legislate morality, protect the clergy, build churches, and support missions.

The Age of Utopia: Christendom from the Renaissance to the Russian Revolution, by John Strickland

This was an expression of the early Church’s unitary cosmology, the manifestation of the kingdom of heaven on earth.  Rulers would be granted broad latitude in ecclesiastical affairs, with the responsibility to align their policies with those of the bishops.

As you can imagine, it often didn’t work out that way:

In fact, such symphony often degenerated into a condition of caesaropapism, whereby strident emperors imposed detrimental and at times even heretical policies on the faithful.

More often than not, the worst get on top.  Which comes back to why I find the entire governance structure promoted in the East to be flawed.  It is fine if it is Christ as head; anyone less saintly can almost never be trusted.

Strickland offers that this Symphony was also the model in the West, until the Papal Reformation, “when the papacy suddenly asserted political supremacy over ‘secular’ rulers.”

This doesn’t sit right with me.  Sure, the papacy can “assert” all it wants, but, as Joseph Stalin may or may not have asked: how many divisions does the pope have?  Ultimately, the pope could not assert political supremacy, as he had no military that could stand against the king – unless a military offered to him by a rival king.  Ultimately, the pope’s “supremacy” was based on his power to excommunicate.  Really nothing more.

The support received by Luther was a sign that the secular rulers wanted to break free from the mixed and decentralized authority of the time – and why wouldn’t they?  The chance was finally offered, where one could remain Christian without the burden of having to be under any risk of excommunication.  Even those rulers who remained in the Catholic Church happily accepted this newfound level of authority.

There was also the push for a complete secularization of government.  There is the story of France, Europe’s most powerful and influential state by the time of Louis XIV. 

Preceding his reign, and having suffered significant civil wars that took the lives of three million people, including the massacre of Protestant Huguenots in the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572, these civil wars came to an end only when the Huguenot King Henry IV agreed to accept Roman Catholicism for the sake of the crown.  He also issued the edict of Nantes, granting the Huguenots toleration.  Eventually, this act brought on his assassination.

Then there was Cardinal Richelieu. Placed in charge of the administration of the French state.  During the Thirty Years War and despite being, obviously, Catholic, he formed an alliance with Protestants to fight against the Roman Catholic Hapsburg Empire – the main rival to French national power.  (We really need to stop considering these as wars of religion.)

Richelieu’s objective was not the restoration of a paradisiacal culture.  It was the creation of an absolutist monarchy (again, not wars of religion, but wars of state building).  While the papacy had the objective of recovering papal people and lands, this was not Richelieu’s concern.  All historical obstacles to royal power were to be removed, crushed, destroyed.  What was previously a decentralized system was to become a monopoly, absolutist state.

He first went after the nobility – again, a source of decentralized authority.  Armies were sent through France, knocking down the castles that served as symbols of the decentralized noble authority.  In 1627, he led the siege of the Huguenot city of La Rochelle – wearing his episcopal robes – and was the first to enter the starving city after it capitulated.

It was this model that Louis XIV inherited.  He would regularly attend Mass, and, no less than the Puritans in England, he created a police force designed to enforce public morality.  The self-styled “Sun King” would be not only the center of the French state, but he would also be the light of all of Christendom. 

And he would build the new royal palace at Versailles.  The streets of the town were all laid out in geometric pattern; the gardens also submitted to mathematical design; the fountains could reverse the natural flow of water; painted on the ceilings, images of Louis himself.  And then, the Hall of Mirrors.

Aristocrats, bishops, foreign ambassadors – they would come to receive their assignments or to pay their respects – or both.  And there was his desire to achieve complete autonomy from the pope.  In 1681 he would convene a national council of bishops, which issued four articles. 

The first declared that a sharp division existed between spiritual and temporal power, and the pope had authority only in the former; second, the pope’s authority was subject to a council of bishops – in form, at least, with the former conciliatory model; third, the faith was not to be so completely “universal,” instead subject to local and national variations; finally, the pope’s authority was not absolute.


The Thirty Years War is a largely factitious conception which has, nevertheless, become an indestructible myth.

So writes N.M. Sutherland (PDF).  I thought there was a typo, in the very first sentence.  I was wrong:

Factitious: not spontaneous or natural; artificial; contrived: made; manufactured

I guess it means that while there are recognized facts behind the event, the narrative – to include even the naming of it – is artificially derived.  Continuing with Sutherland:

The original, standard version of the Thirty Years War was of a German-centred, predominantly religious conflict, albeit containing other elements.

He notes that if one focusses solely on Germany and its Catholics and Lutherans during this period, one could conclude such a thing.  But, of course, the wars during this time involved much more than Germany.

Sutherland offers that the origins date back to the 1530s, some eighty years before the “official” start date.  He offers it as a war of empires – the Holy Roman, of course, but Spain, France, Italy, Hapsburg, etc.  He ends the period of wars with the Peace of Utrecht in 1713 – sixty-five years after the “official” end date.  And what was the culminating event?

Assisted by time and dynastic accident, Louis XIV ultimately presided over the destruction of Spanish power in Europe

I may be a bit rusty on my history, but I believe both France and Spain were Catholic countries….  In other words, these were most definitely NOT wars of religion.


  1. Good stuff as always bionic.

    I really like the statement that political Symphony only works with Jesus Christ on an earthly throne. That day will come. In the meantime we have to decentralize human power to stop the corruption from becoming total.

    This also shows the historical evidence that it was the Enlightenment in its push to secularize that is the source of the crazy woke world we live in today.

    1. "...political Symphony only works with Jesus Christ on an earthly throne."

      I have been back through this article numerous times and I simply cannot find this statement. Perhaps you are reading too much into the text?

    2. "More often than not, the worst get on top. Which comes back to why I find the entire governance structure promoted in the East to be flawed. It is fine if it is Christ as head; anyone less saintly can almost never be trusted."

      I was summarizing this paragraph in my own words.