Today in History
Travel to Germany
Facts About Germany
Thirty Years' War
German Chocolate Cake
How To in Germany
Religion in Germany
Roman Catholicism, one of Germany's two principal religions, traces its
origins there to the eighth-century missionary work of Saint Boniface.
In the next centuries, Roman Catholicism made more converts and spread
eastward. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Knights of the
Teutonic Order spread German and Roman Catholic influence by force of
arms along the southern Baltic Coast and into Russia. In 1517, however,
Martin Luther challenged papal authority and what he saw as the commercialization
of his faith. In the process, Luther changed the course of European and
world history and established the second major faith in Germany--Protestantism.
Religious differences played a decisive role in the Thirty Years' War.
An enduring legacy of the Protestant Reformation and this conflict was
the division of Germany into fairly distinct regions of religious practice.
Roman Catholicism remained the preeminent faith in the southern and western
German states, while Protestantism became firmly established in the northeastern
and central regions. Pockets of Roman Catholicism existed in Oldenburg
in the north and in areas of Hesse. Protestant congregations could be
found in north Baden and northeastern Bavaria.
The unification of Germany in 1871 under Prussian leadership led to the
strengthening of Protestantism. Otto von Bismarck sought to weaken Roman
Catholic influence through an anti-Roman Catholic campaign, the Kulturkampf,
in the early 1870s. The Jesuit order was prohibited in Germany, and its
members were expelled from the country. In Prussia the "Falk laws," named
for Adalbert Falk, Bismarck's minister of culture, mandated German citizenship
and attendance at German universities for clergymen, state inspection
of schools, and state confirmation of parish and episcopal appointments.
Although relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the state were
subsequently improved through negotiations with the Vatican, the Kulturkampf
engendered in Roman Catholics a deep distrust of the empire and enmity
Prior to World War II, about two-thirds of the German population was Protestant
and the remainder Roman Catholic. Bavaria was a Roman Catholic stronghold.
Roman Catholics were also well represented in the populations of Baden-Württemberg,
the Saarland, and in much of the Rhineland. Elsewhere in Germany, especially
in the north and northeast, Protestants were in the majority.
During the Hitler regime, except for individual acts of resistance, the
established churches were unable or unwilling to mount a serious challenge
to the supremacy of the state. A Nazi, Ludwig Müller, was installed
as the Lutheran bishop in Berlin. Although raised a Roman Catholic, Hitler
respected only the power and organization of the Roman Catholic Church,
not its tenets. In July 1933, shortly after coming to power, the Nazis
scored their first diplomatic success by concluding a concordat with the
Vatican, regulating church-state relations. In return for keeping the
right to maintain denominational schools nationwide, the Vatican assured
the Nazis that Roman Catholic clergy would refrain from political activity,
that the government would have a say in the choice of bishops, and that
changes in diocesan boundaries would be subject to government approval.
However, the Nazis soon violated the concordat's terms, and by the late
1930s almost all denominational schools had been abolished.
Toward the end of 1933, an opposition group under the leadership of Lutheran
pastors Martin Niemöller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer formed the "Confessing
Church." The members of this church opposed the takeover of the Lutheran
Church by the Nazis. Many of its members were eventually arrested, and
some were executed--among them, Bonhoeffer--by the end of World War II.
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