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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
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7 occurrences of Dictionary_of_the_History_of_Ideas
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1. The Age of theWars of Religion. The principle
of cujus regio ejus religio (religion is determined by
the ruler) prevailed from 1559, not because the aspi-
ration for a “universal” Church, a single form of
Christianity, had been surrendered, but because some-
thing of a stalemate had been achieved. The various
states now blossomed out as differing forms of “Chris-
tian Society”; and it might be the accidents of history
and geography (rather than any antecedent national
“spirit”) that led e.g., England and Scotland or the two
halves of the Low Countries to diverge from one an-
other. It might be the form of confession then adopted
which, for the future, conditioned the developing
character and tradition of a country. The process of
nation-making was still continuing, and religious
differentiations still tended to play a considerable part
in this. With the breakdown of the medieval “univer-
sal” idea, the overall picture became more disturbing;
Europe had very slowly to find its way to a new kind
of international order, a new conception of the society
of states. For the time being, a momentous religious
issue had arisen to complicate the relations between
governments and to embarrass European diplomacy.
For nearly a century the world was torn by a succession
of wars in which religion (however closely it might
be combined with other factors) was the primary
motor, or the real source of the fanaticism and bitter
feeling.

But monarchs—though they were greatly elevated
under the system of cujus regio ejus religio—were not
always masters of the situation. Mary Queen of Scots
was unable to prevent Scotland from being Calvinist,
and the rulers of England could not prevent the Irish
from remaining Roman Catholic. In the northern
provinces of the Low Countries a minority of Calvin-
ists, using sometimes almost gangster methods, cap-
tured the magistracies in the cities and reduced a
majority of Catholics to the status of “second-class”
citizens, during the rebellion against Philip II. By the
end of the sixteenth century, the humane and scholarly
tradition that was associated with Erasmus had asserted
itself in this region, and brought distinction to the
University of Leyden. There emerged the Arminian
movement, which sought to soften the severities of
predestinarianism amongst the Calvinists, and this was
supported by a burgher aristocracy whose culture
acquired a leading position in Europe in the first half
of the seventeenth century. The movement was re-
sisted, however, by the populace, who were incited
by the intransigeance of the Calvinist ministers and
supported by the House of Orange. The defeat of
Arminianism was registered in 1619 at the Synod of
Dordrecht, which was attended by representatives of
so many foreign countries that it almost looked like
a Calvinist attempt at a General Council of the Church.

Because religion was such a momentous matter in
those days, and was supported by such grim sanctions,
it had the capacity to bring public opinion to new
importance in the state, and it often increased the
tensions within the body politic. In countries like
England and Bohemia the resistance of a religious
minority represented virtually the beginning of modern
political opposition to the reigning monarch. Calvinism
in particular was no more willing than Catholicism to
be checked by the power of the king.

This being the general situation, the peculiar pre-
dicament of France was to give this country a signifi-
cant role in the transition to a new order of things.
Here, the action of the government against heretical
movements at home had been delayed, partly by one


398

king who had patronized certain Renaissance groups,
partly by another who had had a political quarrel with
the pope. When serious attention came to be given
to the problem in 1559, it transpired that the Reformers
had become too strong to be dealt with by any ordinary
police methods. In a way that often happened, an
unhappy social position made sections of the nobility
particularly ready for refractoriness in religion, and
these not only took up the cause of the Calvinists but
endowed it with a military organization. The whole
issue became involved in further disputes concerning
the rights of princes of the blood and the question of
the Regency during a royal minority. On the whole—
and especially in the desperate days of Catherine de'
Medici—the government would try to maintain itself
by holding the balance between the overpowerful
Catholics and the overpowerful Huguenots. For poli-
tique
reasons, it was prepared, in a time of great dan-
ger, to adopt a policy of toleration which was anoma-
lous for a Catholic ruler, and which in any case nobody
would have regarded as the ideal.

In these circumstances, not only did repeated civil
wars occur, as the one side and the other attempted
to capture the government, but the two religious
parties would look abroad for allies, the ardent Catho-
lics working with Philip II of Spain. At a time when
France needed to safeguard herself against the pre-
dominance of Habsburg Spain, those who were gov-
erned principally by love of their country might be
inclined to a politique foreign policy too—an alliance
with Dutch and German Protestants, for example. In
these circumstances the extreme Catholics, looking to
Philip II, tended to behave rather as a hostile force—a
kind of “fifth column”—within the country itself. In
France, therefore, the problems of the age of religious
conflict took an extreme form, and came near to ending
in the destruction of the state.

Religious toleration begins to emerge as a politique
policy, and some of its upholders recognize that it
contravenes the whole ideal of the state as a religious
society. They argue, however, that the killing has gone
on too long and that the body politic itself is being
too radically disrupted. It was as though a terrestrial
morality was being used to challenge an alleged
supraterrestrial morality, and at first it was unscrupu-
lous rulers, like Catherine de' Medici, and not the pious
ones, like Mary Tudor, who were prepared to allow
religious dissidence. The members of a persecuted
religious party might protest against the intolerance,
but even so, they sometimes made it clear that their
objection was not to persecution as such but to the
persecution of the right religion by the wrong one.
Only the Socinians in Poland in the latter half of the
sixteenth century proclaimed toleration as a principle,
and that was because they could claim to be preaching
a religion without any dogma.

Given the structure of society as it existed in those
days, toleration itself did not always imply what it
means today. It could involve giving the nobles a free
hand to force their tenantry to a change of religion.
And only very gradually did the various Reformation
parties learn to tolerate one another.

Early in the seventeenth century both Catholics and
Protestants could hope that, by a special effort, they
might turn the balance in their favor (particularly in
Germany and the imperial territories). There are signs
of anxiety and a special fear of war, as though one
were already conscious of the looming shadow of the
coming conflict—the struggle that was to last for thirty
years. Plans for the establishment of perpetual peace
or a remodelling of the map of Europe, the inclination
of the Lutherans to work for appeasement, and the
similar policy which helped to make James I so un-
popular in England, are features of the time which
seem to show the effect of these apprehensions. Projects
for the reunion of Protestants and Catholics were
brought out by Grotius in Holland, John Drury in
England, and later by Leibniz in Germany.