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


Interesting insights, thanks!

I think with all the rot that Poland has gone through, it’s somehow the Will of God that they stay so Catholic there. I wouldn’t have expected it either.


Without my having read carefully through the replies…could it have been because a small number of individuals (e.g. Luther) prompted others, and because of a common language, culture, family, and social ties the ideas were more easily spread and accepted?

Can the spread of Protestantism in Germanic regions (I’m not saying Germany, per se) be rooted in the same fertile grounds that led to the unification of the German states during the era of Bismark? Could the same or similar mechanisms have influenced both? I had read the quote that Germany had been a culture of “musicians, philosophers, and toy makers,” prior to the rise of Bismark’s Junker militarism.


The Prussian character is more all-or-nothing, either this or that.

Many aspects of Catholicism are both…and.

Faith and works. Scripture and Tradition.

Partial, intermediate, temporary explanations: venial sin. purgatory.
Gradual process of perfection.

The Prussian mindset rejected all this. Out come the “solas”. You are totally saved instantly. No purgatory, total depravity. Etc.

In America they carried this further, due to our own culture.


Large parts of Germany remained Catholic, but the reason protestantism was able to enjoy leverage in certain areas was directly related to who the rulers are. Germany was broken up into a variety of miniature semi-autonomous states and so local princes could harbor and protect protestant reformers. The king of England went into full Absalon mode and declared himself the head of the church and state, hence England became Anglican.

The commoners at the time still enjoyed very limited independence and self-determination so when a ruler switched to a different faith or denomination, most of the population followed along or were severely persecuted if they didn’t. Up until the reforms of Emperor Napoleon, Catholics in protestant areas lived in ghettos, and protestants in Catholic areas lived in ghettos.


Some of Luther’s iconoclast ideas were not new. Iconoclasm was an idea that spread during emperor Copronimus (9th century I think) and many people believed these ideas and the ones issuing it were not Germanic. Implying that one people or another ethnically has more or less faith contradicts what St. Paul said, that Jesus came for all. If He came for all then all can have faith. So if faith withers in one part of the world or another may have no explanation at all.
A general explanation for lowering faith is usually the level of lifestyle. The apparition of printed press, the development of small industry, people being more interested in not worrying and spending so much based on religion, are probably linked to looking for an easier, shorter type of religion.
Jesus did say that money and faith don’t go well together, and as much as most people dislike that statement, history has proven it right. Look at the whole world and technology development and lifestyle improvement - 20th century. And it all coincided with a lack of interest in Christianity. Today the comfort of life in Europe also coincides with a lack of interest in God.


I think your point that the local population were forced to follow their local Aristocrat/Prince/Leader in religion is a very good one. It’s important to remember that the vast majority of the population of all areas of Europe at this time were rural peasants tied to their land (or the land they were required to farm). I’m not sure about this period but I know that centuries earlier it was very difficult for the peasant population to move to different areas. They were required by law to live and work in a certain place and there was even law that required that they go to their local priest for Confession. When everyone walked or traveled by horse or donkey their world was very localized and strongly feudal and hierarchical.

The “Old Religion” (Catholicism) was almost completely wiped out in England within a few generations by people being legally required to attend the new church services or face steep fines, imprisonment or more serious punishments. This was combined with propaganda so younger generations no longer were familiar with the teachings of the church.

I suppose going back to my original question however, why was it the case that not only did those ideas spring from Germanic roots but find fertile ground? Luther was able to quickly find enthusiastic followers.


Well you still have Bavaria which stayed Catholic, along with Austria


Thank you OnAJourney this has been discussed already up thread.


Ah, my apologies for bringing it up then.


It’s still a curious outlier, though, that seems to defy explanation. I myself don’t have any ideas why Bavarians, Swabians, Austrians, et. al. remained Catholic while many of the German Swiss cantons went Protestant (Zürich, Bern, Basel, etc.)


I can see why Austria didn’t. The Holy Roman Empire and by extension the Holy Roman Emperor was in some ways still had ties to the papacy during the time of Reformation, and of course Austria had quite a long streak of being emperor by receiving votes from the prince electors


I think we also tend to forget some of the countries that were close calls, could have gone a different direction, and would pose important exceptions to the “Germanic Protestant/Catholic others” thing. For example, it’s pretty easy to think of alternate scenarios where just a few things went differently, and where we could have ended up with a Catholic England and a Protestant Bohemia & Poland.


I suppose we need to know a lot more about all the individual regions and principalities of what is now Germany. Their histories and influences, loyalties and makeup of their population. Albert made a very pertinent point regarding the fact that by being part of a large empire with a distant leadership, these local Princes may have had a lot of autonomy and local independence. Also in such a localized environment your small principality would have been your whole world.

The fact that the Princes elected their emporer as Albert mentioned does create a very different concept of what is “doable” and which lines could be crossed. They are not living under an absolute monarchy so there is the idea that God has a lot more choices of who He wishes to ordain as leader rather than just one singular Royal family. Just the idea that there are choices and you have rights to resist them or create alliances politically could obviously affect their ideas/theology.

I know nothing about this, but was Rome choosing or “imposing” local bishops or was there any local imput? Were bishoprics going to influential families? The Church’s influence and involvement in local politics and decision making may well have a controversial history. I am scrambling around for reason why there was a population (in certain geographic areas) so willing to accept Luther’s (and others) ideas. Were other political ideas circulating at the time that encouraged the population to think that they had the right and ability to separate from Rome? Did what had happened in England change people’s mindset in other parts of Europe?

The fact that counter-reformation church reformers were able to go around on foot or preach from the pulpit in the case of Francis de Sales and bring people back to the fold, shows how localized Europe was. De Sales also published lots of persuasive tracts countering arguments and thereby using the same techniques/technology to reach people as the protestants .


Regarding Southern Germany and Austria geography could play a part. The mountains would separate people in Austria and perhaps encourage a strong regionalism. The populations up in the mountains of the various valleys of Switzerland spoke many different languages and could be quite isolated from each other.

I don’t know the history of Bavaria except it seems to have remained intact for a long period. To this day Bavarians are very unique. The public Catholic gymnasiums (university prep schools) are still considered the best in Germany.


My apologies if I sounded at all unfriendly! I didn’t mean it to come over that way :blush:


I would really like to hear more about this as I know next to nothing about Polish and Czech history.


Ain’t that the understatement of the year!

Lass mich in meine bayrische Ruhe


If right behind them the Bavarians had the Austrians who were very loyal to the Holy Roman Empire this contrasts sharply with Rhineland-Pfalz where I lived and was constantly a battleground (very close to France) with physical borders changing frequently. Our region was right in the middle of Germany (or perhaps just into what is considered the South and to this day is 50/50 Catholic/Protestant.


You do understand that one has to know nothing about Portugal to write something like this.

You may note that “Spain” is actually a union of several ancient kingdoms and regions that until half a dozen years ago had a separatist guerilla in the Basque country, that Catalonia is prompting yet again for autonomy with the last elected regional government currently imprisoned or in exile, that the “reconquista” of Andaluzia ended short before the reformation began, and Andalusia was still mostly Moorish during the reformation…

It has also not been mentioned that when the East Germanic Visigoths reached Iberia most of the Peninsula had already been Christianized. Saint Paul announces his intention, 300 years before emperor Constantine converted:

Archeology proves Phoenicians and Jews were in Lusitania 700 years before Christ was born, when the OT books of prophets were being written. Thus the old covenant was already established awaiting the Messiah.

One of the original twelve apostles Saint James the Great son of Zebedee is held to have come to Galicia and his disciple Saint Peter of Rates was the first Bishop of Braga in 45-60AD. Pope LeoXIII believed it, as did Saint Jerome (author of the vulgata) and Saint John Chrysostom - to say otherwise is to forget Saint Augustin debated theology with Orosius. Any of them is certainly better informed than the many pseudo-scholars motivated by political agendas attempting to cast doubts on such well established facts.

AS for the lengthy unwinding about heresies in this thread, neglecting to mention Saint Dominic the Albigensian Crusades, or the genocides that went around the Alpes -in smaller scale- during those times, is to forget the preexisting historical conditions that brought the Lutheran heresies. And to this day, I see Anglo-Saxons laying claims on Portuguese history without having any actual clue about what they are talking about.


To the op:
Local lords that chafed under what they considered to be Church overreach into their temporal affairs were generally more tolerant of anti-Church voices among the citizenry.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.