Academic journal article European Studies

Anti-Protestantism and Anti-Catholicism in the 19th Century: A Comparison

Academic journal article European Studies

Anti-Protestantism and Anti-Catholicism in the 19th Century: A Comparison

Article excerpt


Anti-Catholicism and anti-clericalism loom large in historical scholarship nowadays because these issues illustrate the functional patterns of bourgeois society and its tendency of secularisation. It would be a misunderstanding, however, to see Catholics only as victims. Among them anti-Protestant intolerance and resentments were as rampant as were anti-Catholic stereotypes among non-Catholics. What were the differences between anti-Catholicism and anti-Protestantism? Why has the narrative of anti-Protestantism not been told yet?

Offending Jews and mocking Catholics became very popular in 19thcentury Europe. Jewish emancipation was attended by growing discrimination against them, while the emancipation of Catholics (Ireland, Great Britain, partly Germany) and the rising self confidence of ultramontane Catholicism amid bourgeois societies yielded increasing discrimination against Catholics and clergy. Though anti-Catholicism was a major issue, it is understandable why this field has been less scrutinised than antisemitism, faced with the deadly consequences of the hostility against Jews. But what about anti-Protestantism? Why is anti-Catholicism explored a hundred times more frequently than anti-Protestantism? In recent years, anti-Catholicism in France, Belgium, Italy, Sweden and Germany has been studied thoroughly. All the more remarkable is that hardly anything has been done on anti-Protestantism. Anti-Catholicism, as a topic, seems to be much more attractive than anti-Protestantism. Recalling all that has been said about the conflicts between church and state in the 19th century, about the confessional divide in Germany and the age of culture wars, we are left with the image of the Catholic Church as the victim of hegemonic Protestantism in Germany or of laicistic attacks in France and Spain. Comparisons have been drawn between antisemitism and and-Catholicism but no similar comparison has been made with and-Protestantism. Plenty of images and caricatures illustrate ultramontane papacy trying to conquer the world. Similar images about Jews are very familiar to us (Kaiser and Clark, eds. 2003; Blaschke 2008; Borutta 2010).

Anti-Catholiásm and Antisemitism as the 'Ignominy of the Century'

In 1896, Heinrich Keiter, the editor of a Catholic newspaper, put together a meticulous list of works of literature in which priests, monks, Jesuits, or nuns were attacked or mocked. The title of his book is telling: 'Confessional Well-poisoning: The True Ignominy of the Nineteenth Century.'

Keiter was referring directly to a remark made by Emperor Friedrich III (1888) who had described antisemitism as 'the ignominy of the century.' The priest and editor contradicted the liberal-minded emperor's statement that antisemitism was the primary scandal. On the contrary, Keiter said, the true ignominy of the century was anti-Catholicism. 'Feelings of hatred towards Rome are being systematically cultivated. They are swelling and forming an avalanche, and antisemitism remains just a tiny ball in comparison.' Keiter dramatised anti-Catholicism by contrasting it with antisemitism (Keiter 1896, 2-3).

In fact, anti-Jewish prejudices and anti-Catholic prejudices had many elements in common, as both were considered international phenomena and both religious groups seemed to be planning a conspiracy against the world order. What is more, in countries like Germany, Swit2erland or the Netherlands, Catholics and Jews were minorities to look down upon. Indeed, Catholics comprised about 36 percent of the population in Germany. The Protestant majority sneered at their Catholic fellow citÍ2ens as well as ultramontane Catholicism in general. The Pope, Jesuits, and priests became the targets of caricatures. Common Prussian Catholics found it difficult to work their way up in administration and in the military, in politics, and education. Thus, contemporary Catholic politicians lamented Catholic inferiority and imparity. …

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