Theory why Protestantism flourished Northern Europe

I have been studying the pre Christian cultures of Europe and I am finding a trend that many of the strong catholic countries such as Ireland, Spain, Italy the faith started with the bottom of society and worked its way up to the elite and in northern Germany, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden A king would decide he was going to be catholic and since in Norse religions (Odin, Loki) the king or local leader was considered to a descendant of the gods the people easily did what he said. So in theory these more northern people were never allowed to have a conversion

Any thoughts ?

Interesting theory. I think its wrong and here is why.

There is evidence that northern Europeans were very pious Catholics prior to the Reformation. In fact, the intercession “industry” (i.e. the entire cycle of giving money and offering prayers for souls in Purgatory) was more of a northern phenomenon. Places such as Spain and Italy do not appear to have invested as much thought or money into this industry. It was therefore in areas where Luther’s message would have the most impact that Purgatory had the most influence as an idea. It was only after the Reformation that these ideas took root in southern Europe.

Another north-south difference was in the way penance was practiced. In the north, preaching focused on the role of the penitent. The priest acted as a judge of the penitents work. In the south, the focus was on the priest who was seen as doctor or mediator of grace in absolution. The focus was not on the layperson’s activity. These could be factors in why Luther’s message took hold in the north and not in the south.

Diarmaid MacCulloch talks about these north-south differences in his really great book, The Reformation: A History.

However, I should add that MacCulloch says that a possible reason for this northern fascination with the power of prayer to release one from Purgatory may be rooted in pre-Christian Germanic culture. He says it could reflect an earlier German culture of mutual gifts. The prayers of the clergy became part of a system of exchange of “necessary generosity.”

So, in a sense, you are correct that cultural differences are at play here. However, I don’t think there is any indication that northern Europeans were in some way more pagan or less catechized than their southern counterparts.

I look forward to reading further on the topic. Thanks Adamski and Itwin

-Poland and Hungary invalidate the part about top down
-I don’t think Germanic paganism linked the local warlord with one of the gods
-I’m pretty sure pagan Lithuania used a non-Germanic based paganism

It’s funny you bring this up because I am writing a paper on the Black Death and its impact on the Reformation, and I am reading one of MaCulloch’s books, A History of Christianity. However, in that book he tends to imply that Dante’s Divine Comedy might be a reason in why in Italy, the obsession with indulgences wasn’t as high.

Ultimately there are a plethora of reasons, and it is impossible to pin the Reformation entirely on one event. I do think that part of the reason why the Reformation was so successful in Northern Europe was because of the impact of religious movements that existed before Martin Luther. Jan Hus in Bohemia had access to writings of John Wycliffe, and Luther had access to both, not to mention to a printing press, which was fundamental in why Lutheranism exploded and why Anglicanism diffused in England. I personally think that the Black Death helped ignite some sparks by the way of some great psychological changes among the faithful as well as a general corruption of the clergy.

But again, there are a lot of factors.

The socio-politico-religious impeuses for the Reformations are very complex. This might have contributed, but I’d be careful looking for any one cause.

I agree A very interesting topic. I love debates along these lines.

Dante certainly did condemn those who practiced simony and indulgences, eh? Of course, Chaucer addressed the latter as well. And good point about Wycliffe- it’s often overlooked that, nearly a hundred years before Luther, the seeds of Reformation were already being sown in England.

Yeah, I always looked to Wycliffe and Hus when I was a Protestant, trying to say that the Protestant Reformation was simply recovering the “true gospel” rather than creating a new or changed Gospel. The problem is that Wycliffe and Hus were still 1,300 years late, were mostly fighting over power, and both still had mostly Catholic beliefs.

I read the Church Fathers, expecting to see two strands of Christianity from the beginning-- the “true” “faith alone” “bible alone” strand and the false “works righteousness” “man-made tradition” strand. The problem was that the first strand simply didn’t exist in the Church Fathers, while a full reading of the Church Fathers showed they were extremely Catholic. Catholic theology was all there in the Early Church: Apostolic succession, the Apostles written words (scripture) and oral teaching (tradition) being authoritative, the Church having the authority to interpret the Apostolic teaching rather than the individual, the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Mary’s perpetual virginity, etc etc was all in the first two centuries; yet we have no trace of a Protestant strand fighting against these Catholic ideas until many many centuries later.

To get back to the original post about why Protestantism flourished in Northern Europe; as has been stated earlier, there are so many variables that it’s probably impossible to pin down one.

I do think your point about Kings making the decision for the country to be very true. It’s not like today, where we read different ideas and make decisions for ourselves. Back then the monarchy would decide for everyone what the people were to believe. Many Kings converted to Protestantism out of political convenience, such as King Henry VIII. Heaven knows the monarchies were trying to fight against the Pope for political power well before the Protestant Revolt; the Protestant Revolt provided a new way for the monarchies to fight against the Pope together. Yet, we still stand, while all their monarchies are gone. :slight_smile:

The Council of Trent also condemned the sale of indulgences too, btw. Council of Trent:

“But desiring that the abuses which have become connected with them [indulgences], and by any reason of which this excellent name of indulgences is blasphemed by the heretics, be amended and corrected, it ordains in a general way by the present decree that all evil traffic in them, which has been a most prolific source of abuses among the Christian people, be absolutely abolished.”

I haven’t heard that anyone thought that kings were descendants of the pagan gods in prechristian Germanic cultures. Can we get some source on that?

I think its simply an issue of proximity, not to be myopic, but the further away from Rome geographically a region was, the more likely it would be Protestant. Administratively speaking it was harder to oversee distant lands.

The notable exception would be Ireland, whose Catholicism was much tied up in politics with England.

Yes the Holy Roman Empire played a decisive role, per my understanding.

I watched a bbc documentary that said that and I read about a saint Olaf and when he became catholic the common people believed he had a god inspired power and they had to follow his new faith

If you read the contemporary sagas re Olaf, he converted people by force; you either converted or your village/town was burned to the ground and everyone living there was killed. Needless to say, most people converted. That said, once people were converted, certain mirracles were atttributed to him and he was eventually sainted.

One of the more sort of humerous things told in the saga (sorry, the name of the saga in quesiton is right on the tip of my tongue, just can’t remember it) is a Christian convert blessing his mead horn before he drank from it (tracing a cross over it) - his fellow warriors asked him what he was doing and someone responded that he was “obviously drawing Mjölnir over his drink to ask Thor’s blessing”. Converts generally had to keep a low profile at first, or at least that’s the impression I get from the sagas.

The Norse kings traditionally traced their ancestry back to Odin.

Certainly the Anglo-Saxon kings traced their genealogy back to the gods. For instance the preface to the Parker MS of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle traces the genealogy of Cerdic, the (?mythical?) founder of the House of Wessex, back to Woden.

And as Queen Elizabeth II can trace her genealogy back to Cerdic …

And, back through torturous and tentative ways, to Aeneas. Hence to Aphrodite.

GKC

Anglo Saxon kings as well - Wodan is the A/S form of Odin. Virtually all old Germanic royalty traces it’s origins back to Odin/Wodan.

Most cultures trace their kings/queens back to a deity (e.g. the rulers of Persia to Ahura Mazda, Oriental royalty to a Sky god, etc.) - hence the “reason” that their kingship is/was by “divine right”.

And as far as the Queen is concerned, so they say, to the Prophet, although that of course is another matter.

Medawlinno;11908633]If you read the contemporary sagas re Olaf, he converted people by force; you either converted or your village/town was burned to the ground and everyone living there was killed. Needless to say, most people converted. That said, once people were converted, certain mirracles were atttributed to him and he was eventually sainted.

You raise a good point here. When deciphering this history as it relates to the OP, One must not error in placing the actions of Catholic secular Royalty on the Catholic Church. The two are not the same.

It is true that the secular Catholic Kings influenced those living in the King/Queen’s domain. Yet the responsibility for food and shelter was the secular authorities, whereby the spiritual responsibility was the Catholic Church’s.

It was in this mixture of politics over the people and their spiritual enlightenments that influenced many uprisings and peaceful results.

**The battle to give to Caesar to what belongs to the Caesars and give to God what belongs to God, **appeared to be the root of not only the protestant reformation but all previous revolutions that lead up to the protestant revolt.

The Popes through out the centuries fought tirelessly including at the cost of torture and their martyrdom, to keep the teachings of Jesus Christ from ever being changed or influenced by secular powers.

One of the more sort of humerous things told in the saga (sorry, the name of the saga in quesiton is right on the tip of my tongue, just can’t remember it) is a Christian convert blessing his mead horn before he drank from it (tracing a cross over it) - his fellow warriors asked him what he was doing and someone responded that he was “obviously drawing Mjölnir over his drink to ask Thor’s blessing”. Converts generally had to keep a low profile at first, or at least that’s the impression I get from the sagas.

“Freedom” was one of the clarion calls of Protestantism that mixed both religion with politics, or used politics to free their “freedom” religion, to practice and believe the way they chose too, such as the example you give above.

Individual freedom and thinking paved a way for not only for the reformation but also for individual Catholics such as Martin Luther, Hus, Wycliffe and others.

Remove the politics from the reformation, and all that is left standing is an abuse of Christianity discipline by those individuals who were practicing Catholics. When the abuse’s of Christian faith and discipline are never the Catholic Church’s teaching and practices.

Peace be with you

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