11.2.5 Catholicism and Protestantism in upheaval

The Reformation led to a counter movement (the Counter-Reformation) as European Catholicism strove for spiritual renewal and reinforced the power of the papacy. The Popes endeavoured to regain Protestant territories for Catholicism.

In the course of these conflicts, the Thirty Years' War broke out in Europe (1618-1648) which served, among other things, to strengthen the institution of the state church. The sovereign determined the religion of his subjects.

In the eighteenth century, a rationalistic Christianity–a kind of Christianity which adopted the insights of the sciences of the time–began to merge with the philosophical concepts of the Enlightenment. Denominational conflicts and philosophical-theological disputes brought Protestantism into a state of crisis. As a reaction, Pietism gained more and more influence.

The hallmarks of Pietism include interest in intensive Bible study, social and missionary engagement, and a strong focus on Jesus Christ's activity as Redeemer.

Emphasis on the importance of emotions for Christian life and faith found a certain continuity in the revivalist movements. These evangelical movements, which originated in the eighteenth century, particularly in England and the USA, sought to distinguish themselves from "cultural Christianity" and return to a living faith.

In the nineteenth century, the Innere Mission (Inner or Home Mission) and the Protestant Free Churches–churches that were independent of the state–came into being in Germany and began to spread from there. This movement was not only aimed at winning non-Christians in foreign countries for Christianity, but also at those in Germany who had, through poverty and ignorance, become alienated from the faith. The further propagation of Christianity in non-European countries, particularly in Africa, received significant momentum from missionary societies.

A kind of devotion oriented to spiritual experience can also be observed in eighteenth and nineteenth century Catholicism.

It is in this context that the ideological conflicts with the French revolution, the attendant circumstances of the dawning industrial age, as well as the scientific and rationalistic thinking which sought to explain the world without reference to traditional faith, should be understood.

See also