History: Why so many “Reformers/Rebels” Germanic?


I think this question is more about the history of the period. Why were so many of those who left the church and led new denominations from Germany and Switzerland (excepting England which was still Northern Europe?).


You are oversimplifying. Remember that southern Germany and Austria remained Catholic, and they are as ‘Germanic’ as you can get.


But northern and western Germany didn’t. Neither did Switzerland. Furthermore the OP used the word ‘Germanic’ not ‘German’, so I suppose we could toss in the Protestant Dutch, Protestant English, and overwhelmingly Lutheran Scandinavians. Let’s consider the role the Dutch also had in actual schism after Vatican I, and now the communion controversies almost entirely orchestrated by the Germans today.

Yes, it’s a little over simplified, but I think the OP has a generalizable point.


And yet, there’s also a parallel history of precision and rule-following.


Oh trust me, you don’t have to tell Albert Der Große that!

Aber, danke schön!


This question actually comes up a lot and someone has posted a pretty comprehensive set of hypotheses on Quora, while recognizing that it doesn’t totally resolve the question since southern Germany and Austria stayed Catholic.


I think the point about Catholicism being largely sustained by certain nobility in countries (such as Spain, France, Poland, Austria and Ireland) where the nobility was dominant/ could repress the middle class (who tended to gravitate towards Protestantism) is an important part of the picture.


Yes they did. Only that the Catholics prevailed in no small part because the alignment of political power and religion favored them, and the same can be said of where the protestants had more success. Feudal power and religion weren’t separated.


Thanks for the link. I’ll give it a read in a bit.

Me personally, I long ago just chalked this phenomenon up to the age of Christianization at the time said countries went Protestant. Most of the Romance nations were originally part of the Roman Empire and therefore were Christianized hundreds if not almost a thousand years before the Northern countries were. There’s a reason, in fact, that in the Extraordinary From of the Mass the priest chants the Gospel facing liturgical north (i.e. toward the left side of the nave). Those were the lands of the “Barbarians” who needed civilizing with the Gospel.

All of the nations mentioned, except for England, were Christianized relatively late, with Scandinavia only being thoroughly Christianized no earlier than 1150 AD. England itself is a unique case as it was Christianized so early yet went Protestant. This was more an accident of politics than anything else. King Henry VIII considered himself Catholic until his dying breath (just not “Romish” or a “Papist”) and he persecuted Lutherans and Calvinists vociferously. It would take Cranmer the puppet master to really bring Reformed theology into the Church of England. If Henry had gotten his annulment I bet England would be Catholic today and the rest of the whole world would look very different.

Before anyone points it out, I readily recognize I’m engaging in post hoc ergo propter hoc. This is more just me thinking out loud.


Yes they did what? Remain Catholic? No they absolutely did not.


I am aware of that Dan as I lived in central Germany for 6 years until recently. I also realize that the region wasn’t know as Germany during that period but was made up of many principalities. My point still stands though, why were Germanic peoples open to change and rebellion more? Italy was also made up of many smaller regions and not a nation state but Protestantism did not bloom there.


Thank you Albert I think you appreciate what I am attempting to open up for discussion without writing a thesis like opening post with lots of disclaimers.


My husband is suggesting that also the printing press was invented in what is now Germany and maybe more people were literate so ideas could spread. Luther’s theses were disseminated very quickly far and wide so there was clearly an appetite for these ideas.

I think you have all made excellent points so far. It is a very interesting time period.


You know, this might be another datum to consider: the federalization of “Germany” as you mention. At the time the countries we think of as being thoroughly Catholic were powerful, centralized, hereditable monarchies (think France, Spain, Portugal, even England until Henry VIII, and even then it was still very “Catholic” just not in communion with the Pope until Elizabeth I), while the German speaking peoples were spread across various principalities within an “empire” that wasn’t very centralized and the emperor was elected by those princes (some of whom were Catholic bishops). I wouldn’t at all be surprised if this played a role in their understanding of ecclesiology.

Considering all this then Italy would be the outlier. Why didn’t it, with all its small principalities and duchies, go Protestant? My guess would be proximity to actual Rome and the Papal States, not to mention the considerable cultural connection between the two. It’s much easier for Brandenburg or Saxony to see the Pope as some foreign prince trying to meddle in their politics compared to, say, Naples, Genoa, or Milan.


Albert, I think the Quora response makes that point also about different systems of government. You should really read it, I’d be interested in your thoughts on it.


Tis Bearself thank you for that great link which has lots of thought provoking theories.

I don’t know much about Italian history except that again we have to take into account very strong regionalism. Some areas such as the South (including Naples) and Sicily were constantly changing hands among monarchs from other parts of Europe. I wonder in those cases if the stability and constancy of the church when the rulers were absent landlords encourages strong loyalty.

Then other areas were strong independent city states for long periods with their own monarchies.

But the cultural element (Italians are at home with Latin) and Popes and traditions which were all familiar to the peoples of what is now Italy had a strong role. I also get the impression that illiteracy was much higher in Italy (I have no evidence at all for this “impression”!). I mean, I know that most people in every region of Europe were illiterate but that the Notherm countries had a growing middle class. Again, I imagine there were differences among the different regions of Italy.


No doubt the Church in Rome also provided all kinds of employment opportunities, educational opportunities, and business opportunities for the regions around it.


Albert also your point that the powerful nation states were Spain, France and Portugal is a good one. They would have the centralized control so you say to stamp out heresy. The counter-reformation came out of Spain and France mostly - although I’m sure Bavaria and Austria must’ve played their part by resisting.

In the Quora thread there is mention of the 30 years war and how that killed the appetite for religious wars. Where we lived in Germany I was struck by how inward-looking the older village house designs were, with high walls and courtyards with large gates. I wasn’t surprised to find out our region had changed hands in wars a number of times. You felt the village was designed to cope with seige.

I am a loyal Catholic but have been studying the French Revolution with one of my high-schoolers. The dire poverty of the majority of the French and the horrendous taxation imposed by the church and the King makes me have a lot of sympathy for the appeal of independence and autonomy that the Protestants were offering. Instead, the injustice in France ended in a bloody revolution with horrendous attacks on the church.


I’m assuming you wanted me to focus on the first answer on Quora, correct? I think it’s a pretty good answer at generally explaining the grievances that the Protestant princes had with Rome, but it doesn’t explain why those grievances were had by the Germanic/Northern countries and not by the kingdoms of the Mediterranean. At first glance every single one of those grievances could equally be shared by the Spanish, the Portuguese, the French, etc. so why didn’t they jump ship too? Granted that Quora thread was more broad in scope than this thread here on CAF. I also think he overstates the Holy Roman emperor’s benefiting from the Reformation. If it weren’t for the Peace of Westphalia I honestly think the empire would’ve imploded from all the infighting. An emperor (and king, prince, duke, etc.) needs his subjects to be on the same religious page in the 16th-17th centuries. Having some German states go Lutheran, some (very very few) go Reformed, and others remain Catholic, all the while there are radical reformers like the Anabaptists popping up being a real thorn in the sides of all parties isn’t going to make for a stable empire. The emperor really needed the unity of the Catholic Church to keep his empire united. Not to mention, the whole idea of a Holy Roman Empire is that these German imposters were successors to the original Roman Empire, and they can claim so despite being of an entirely different ethnicity due to their shared faith with the original. The Holy Roman Empire makes no sense without Catholicism. Indeed, all of the emperors until the dissolution of the empire were Catholic.

The second answer seems to mirror much of what I said in my second post here, about the uncanny congruence between the borders of the old Roman Empire and the religious border of the Catholic-Protestant realms. I think this makes a lot of intuitive sense. Let’s liken it to today’s world: imagine if some “reformer” arose in a nascent Catholic community in a part of the world where Catholicism/Christianity is relatively new. The Philippines might be a good example since they’ve been Catholic for about as long as the Germans were Catholic at the time of the Reformation. As many of us know the Filipinos are some of the most faithful Catholics in the whole world, and the Catholicism they practice is very much by the book and it’s very much informed by the Spanish colonial powers that enforced uniformity on them. This “reformer” would have a much easier time convincing these Filipinos to cast aside the yolk of Rome for the sake of their own liturgical, cultural, scriptural, and jurisdictional autonomy than, say, the actual Spaniards from whom they inherited Catholicism to begin with. This is precisely because the cultural link between Madrid and Rome is stronger than Manila and Rome despite the fact that Manila is more orthodox and more faithful to Catholicism.

As an aside I’d really like to ask, how the heck did Poland (1) become Catholic instead of Orthodox unlike her sister Slavic nations, and (2) remain Catholic after the 16th century!? That’s the real mystery.


That very well might be the case, especially since all of these monarchies unto whose hands places like Naples were transferred over and over again were all Catholic monarchies. I would bet the average peasant had no idea who was ruling them at any given time since the Mass was the same and the King (of whatever) was commemorated silently in the canon.

The real and obvious disruption comes to people like the English who had to oscillate back and forth between Catholic and Reformed worship sometimes three times within a single lifetime. That would be painfully obvious. One day Fr. Mark is your pastor, the next day Fr. Mark is hanged, drawn, and quartered. Pretty obvious something changed! And it’s clear that such isn’t a formula for security or loyalty for that matter.


She sure did. You forgot tourism in the form of pilgrimage. Granted, people didn’t “stay and soak up the sights” like we do today in the 21st century, but all those pilgrims still needed lodging, food, beer/wine, leisure, etc. Some of that was provided for by convents and monasteries (usually the lodging and reasonable portions of food), but the rest was provided by proto-entrepreneurs.

I can’t say I share your assumption. I think we’re predisposed to thinking this because printing began in Germany and remained a largely German endeavor for a while until it spread to other parts of Europe. I have no reason to assume German peasants were any more literate than their French, Spanish, Italian, or English counterparts. It would be interesting to know when the first non-German piece of literature was printed if for no other reason than to look cool at the next trivia pub crawl. :wink:

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