140-Up North, Then South

We wrap up our review of the Enlightenment effect on the Church in Europe by looking at Scandinavia, The Dutch United Provinces, Geneva, and Italy.


This 140th episode is titled Up North, Then South.

This will be the last episode where we take a look at Christianity in Europe following the Enlightenment. This narrative is nowhere near exhaustive. It’s more an exhaustING summary of Scandinavia, The Dutch United Provinces, Austria, and Italy. We’ve already looked at Germany, France, and Spain.

The end of the 17th C proved to be a brutal time in Scandinavia. Some 60% of the population died from 1695-7 due to warfare & the disease & famine so often associated with its aftermath. As if they hadn’t had enough misery, the Great Northern War of 1700–1721 followed. In the desperation of the times, Lutheran provide devotionals offering hope & comfort, while at the same time calling on their people to pray & repent.

As in northern Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, & Finland were Lutheran strongholds. Citizens were required to swear loyalty to the Lutheran state church which was in league with the king who practice absolutism.

But during the Great Northern War, the Swedish King Charles XII suffered a massive defeat at by the Russian armies of Peter the Great. Sweden lost large tracts of land and the throne lost clout with the Swedish people. A so-called “Age of Liberty” followed that lasted for the most of the rest of the 18th C. The Swedish Parliament gained power & reformers attempted to give a utilitarian and rationalist slant to Swedish education. These Enlightenment reformers battled with the clergy, who wanted to retain a theological component in the education of Sweden’s young.

Many of the returning captured Swedish soldiers who’d been imprisoned in Russia from 1722-4, had been converted to Pietism by the missionaries sent by Francke from the University at Halle we talked about last time. The now Pietist soldiers became advocates of it in Sweden. Moravians also promoted revivals in Scandinavia.

After a grab for power in 1772, Gustavus III nullified the Swedish Constitution that restrained the reach of royal power. He imposed a new Constitution designed to reinforce Lutheranism as the basis of government. He said, “Unanimity in religion, and the true divine worship, is the surest basis of a lawful, concordant, and stable government.” But in 1781 limited toleration came to Sweden when other Protestant groups were allowed. Catholicism remained outlawed.

From 1609, when the Dutch won their liberty from Spain, until Louis XIVth’s invasion in 1672, the Dutch United Provinces had its “Golden Age” and enjoyed what Simon Schama called an “embarrassment of riches.” This was due mostly to their lucrative international trade & free market economy. The Dutch eschewed the traditional monarchy that dominated Europe in favor of a far more egalitarian Parliamentary system.

Amsterdam was a thriving commercial & cultural center. Its population more than doubled from 1600 to 1800. Amsterdam’s docks were always packed. Its warehouses stuffed with goods from all over the world & the fare of the massive and powerful Dutch East India Company. From its earliest days, this trading enterprise supported Reformed missionary work at posts in the Malay Archipelago, Sri Lanka, and South Africa. In July 1625, Dutch traders established New Amsterdam, later known as New York City.

The United Provinces were intellectual & religious crossroads for Europe through its universities, publishing houses, and churches. Protestant students from Germany, Finland, and France flocked there to study at the University of Leiden and other schools.

The main task of the faculty at the University of Leiden was the study of Scriptures. Its Leiden’s professors was Joseph Scaliger whose knowledge of the classics and biblical textual criticism made him one of the premier scholars of Europe. Other scholars included Arminius & Gomarus.

As many of our listeners know, the 17th C was the Dutch golden age of art. Thousands of painters created millions of paintings with scenes ranging from battles and landscapes, to churches, still life, & portraits. Among the more famous masters were Rembrandt, Frans Hal, & Vermeer. By the 18th C, the quality of Dutch art had fallen off somewhat.

The Dutch Reformed Church affirmed the Belgic Confession of Faith of 1561. It addressed topics ranging from the Trinity, the work of Christ, and the sacraments, to Church-State relations. Although the Reformed Church was the “official” faith, the United Provinces were known for their toleration of other groups. But that didn’t mean there weren’t heated theological rows. Two parties emerged in the Dutch Reformed Church: the “precise” Calvinists who wanted the churches to possess binding doctrinal authority, and the “loose or moderate” Calvinists who desired greater freedom of religious thought.

The Dutch Provinces often served as a haven for those seeking relief from persecution in other regions of Europe. Amsterdam was home to a Jewish community. Some 70K French Huguenots took refuge there & married into the populace. An Anabaptist community flourished. Religious dissidents like Baruch Spinoza and Anthony Collins, an exile from England, weren’t much respected but they were at least not beat up.

Many Europeans admired the Dutch Republic for its successful war of liberation from the Spanish, its egalitarian government, as well as its vital free market economy. By 1675,there were 55 printing presses & 200 booksellers in Amsterdam, adding to the burgeoning base of middle class scholars.

During the 18th C, the Dutch, while continuing to be officially Reformed, saw an increase in the number of those they’d been less tolerant toward; that is-Catholics, Dissenters, and Jews. Revivals frequently passed through the more rural domains. In 1749&50, emotionally-charged revival meetings took place in the ministry of Gerard Kuypers. Other villages in the Netherlands and in nearby Germany experienced similar revivals.

In a foreshadowing of Intelligent Design and the fine-tuning of the universe arguments, a number of Dutch theologian-scientists wrote works in which they sought to demonstrate that the intricacy of designs in nature prove God’s existence. Until the 1770s, the Reformed Church played a dominant role in Dutch public life. Some 60% of the population was Reformed, 35 percent Catholic, 5% percent Anabaptists & Jews.

There really never was a Dutch brand of the Enlightenment. Most of its participants never espouse a militant atheism, but sought to accommodate their faith to educational reforms and religious toleration. They appreciated the new science and advances in technology.

Now we turn back to Geneva; adopted home of John Calvin.

During the early 1750s, Geneva was the home of both Voltaire and Rousseau, well-known Enlightenment thinkers & scoffers at Christianity.

Several of Geneva’s pastors proposed a reasonable and tolerant form of Christianity that warmed to some of the more liberal Enlightenment ideas. This was a huge turn from the position of Francis Turretin who in the mid 17th C, led the Reformed & conservative theologians of Geneva to the idea that the city was a theocracy with God as its ruler. Turretin said the government ought defend “the culture of pure religion and the pious care of nurturing the church.” Turretin’s party defended the Masoretic pointing of the Hebrew text, making this belief binding on the Swiss church. These pastors feared if Hebrew vowels were left out, the Hebrew words of the Old Testament were susceptible to interpretations that varied  form those they accepted. They also tried to force pastoral candidates to repudiate the doctrine of “universal grace” that was being championed by an emerging class of theologians.

But in 1706 Turretin’s son, Jean, repudiated his father’s work & embraced a more liberal theology that advocated the role of reason in determining truth. He denied the his father’s soteriology, that is, the doctrine of salvation, & eschewed limited atonement. By the 1720s, Arminianism had taken firm root in Geneva.

In Feb, 1670, the Hapsburg, Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor and a devout Roman Catholic, ordered all Jews to leave Austrian lands. Vienna became a cultural center. After the defeat of the Turks, it’s population boomed, growing form about 100K in 1700 to twice that 80 yrs later. The construction of the Schwarzenberg & Schönberg Palaces enhanced its prestige while the music of Haydn and Mozart made the name of Vienna famous across Europe.

The Hapsburg Emperors Joseph I & Charles VI supported missionary efforts of Jesuits to convert Protestants. The Jesuits created a baroque Catholic culture in Austria and Bohemia with the construction of magnificent churches both in cities and the countryside. The architecture of these lavishly churches held few straight lines and focused attention on the eucharist placed on a central high altar so that parishioners would venerate it.

The Austrian Hapsburg emperors, though Catholic, didn’t accept the papacy’s right to intervene in Austria’s religious or political life. They believed their empire was universal and they’d defended Catholicism well. After all, hadn’t Leopold saved Christendom in 1683 by defeating the Turks? Wasn’t Austria in the “rock” upon which the Catholic Church was built?

Upon the death of her father, in Oct, 1740, Maria Theresa took the titles Archduchess of Austria, Queen of Bohemia, & Queen of Hungary. In 1745 her husband, Francis Stephen, became the Holy Roman Emperor under the name Francis I. Disturbed by the Prussian Frederick II’s seizure of Silesia, Maria Theresa attempted to reform the military and governmental structures of Austria after Enlightenment ideals. She became the proponent of what some have called “Enlightened Absolutism.” At the same time, she was ready to apply repressive measures against those who resisted her. On one occasion she warned that he is “no friend to humanity who allows everyone his own thoughts.”

Maria Theresa was a devout Catholic influenced by counselors favorable to Jansenism. With the advice of her chancellor, she tried to establish a national Catholic Church in which the pope had authority only in spiritual matters.

Maria Theresa did not allow Protestants to sell their property or leave her lands. She required those who refused to convert to Catholicism to emigrate to Transylvania, where Protestantism was permitted. Nor did Maria Theresa intercede to save the Jesuits when their society was dissolved. She allowed 2000 Protestants to live in Vienna, but she forced the city’s Jews to live in a ghetto.

Upon the death of Maria Theresa, Joseph II passed Edicts of Toleration that allowed greater freedoms for non-Catholics & continued the policy of subjugating Church power to that ofd the State. He confiscate the property of over 700 monasteries, displacing 27K monks and nuns & used the proceeds to build new churches.

Like Germany, during the 18th C Italy didn’t exist as a nation as we know it. It was a hodge-podge of various principalities; the Duchies of Savoy & Milan, the Republic of Venice, the Duchies of Parma & Modena, the Republics of Genoa & Lucca, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany; the Papal States; and in the S Naples and the islands of Sardinia, Corsica, & Sicily among several other smaller realms. They didn’t even share a common language.

The population of the peninsula grew from 11 to 15 million in the first half of the C. But in the 1760’s a severe famine struck Florence, Rome, & Naples.

Tuscany hosted a strong Jansenist party, who were also influential in Genoa and Milan.

A few Italians tried to promote rationalist views in the Catholic church, eliminating what they regarded as backward features of Italian culture, hide-bound to a long past era.

The popes of the 18th C had difficulty dealing with the now powerful rulers of Europe who no longer felt threatened by Church power or political machinations.

Even the Papal States themselves were frequently invaded by foreign powers. These conquerors only left after they’d extorted hefty ransoms. Popes were forced to make concessions that made the papacy’s weakness evident to all. Despite that, Rome continued to attract large numbers of pilgrims, students, and artists from all. Pilgrims still hoped for a a blessing from the Pope or a healing while visiting the various shrines.

Then there were the youth on the Grand Tour, as it was called. They were most often graduates of Cambridge, Oxford, The University of Paris or some other school who headed to Italy to gain knowledge in classical culture. In 1776, Samuel Johnson underscored the importance of Italy as an destination for those making the Grand Tour: “A man who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority. The grand object of traveling is to see the shores of the Mediterranean. On those shores were the four great Empires of the world; the Assyrian, the Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman.”

Several of the popes supported the establishment of academies, colleges & universities and encouraged the general scholarship. Under their generous patronage Rome’s artistic riches in painting, sculpture, music, and monuments flourished. It was Pope Clement XI who initiated plans for the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps in the early 18th C.

But to give you an idea of how the tables has turned and now Kings often domineer popes, it was this same Clement, who became a pawn in the hands of Emperor Joseph I, and Louis XIV. Louis forced Clement to issue a papal bull dealing with the Jesuit-Jansenist controversy.

Papal prestige suffered seriously during the French Revolution. Pope Pius VI was obliged to condemn the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” as well as the “Civil Constitution of the Clergy.” This split the French between those revolutionaries who wanted to throw off the Absolutist government of the French monarchy but maintain their Catholicism, and those French who wanted to be done with religion as well.

Bottom Line: The Enlightenment witnessed serious challenges to both the papacy’s temporal and spiritual authority.

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