Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Europe in the Age of Reformations: The Modern State and Confessionalization

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Europe in the Age of Reformations: The Modern State and Confessionalization

Article excerpt

The End of Confessional History or History Writing?

As the 500th anniversary of the Reformation approaches, we are A reminded that history is one long transition. As with all civilizations handing over the baton, it is not outside agencies that are killing the West but the West killing itself. But what is specific to our times is that we have lost sight of the shore from which we set out: at most, through a thick fog we glimpse heaps of rubble that we have shed in the last century or so, from the Decalogue to the atomic bomb and the Shoah. On a lighter note, you will smile to hear (if it does not make you weep) how a third-year university student of colleague Claudia Pancino answered a question on the distinction between depraesenti marriage and de futuro marriage (a contractual promise to celebrate a wedding at some other date):

Even after the Council of Trent and its attempt to regulate marriage, people failed to observe the distinction between verbs in the future and those in the present. This was partly because people were poor and ignorant and didn't know their tenses.

But all joking aside, the problem may be that today's millennial youth-not just students but those in Western society as a whole-don't do past tense and future tense but only see and understand a timeless present of 2.0 images.

In a previous publication I tried to show how we have been involved these last few decades in the anthropological crisis of Homo europaeus,1 far more than just another passing transition. The historical argument I wish to develop here is that, as the strands linking confessional Churches and modern states unravel after a five-century cycle dating from Martin Luther's 1517 protest, our whole surroundings are changing, not just in terms of religion but politically and institutionally as well.

Much has been said in recent decades as to where institutions are heading, most of the time seeing it as a one-way process of "secularization." It has been argued that modernity is basically just that, for politics and society as much as for science and culture at large: throwing off the theological, and donning the human and worldly. By contrast, the point I have been laboring to make is that modernity stems from dialogue and osmosis between the two poles-call it dialectic, dualism, or what you will-and in various ways this has hinged on the process of confessionalization (that is, the changeover from a single creed, central to the liturgy and common faith of all the Churches of Europe, to professions of faith that differ across European regions). Churches and states are tied in life and death to this common process. Historians-and still more analysts and political commentators-go very wrong when they overlook this point in tackling the present-day aspects of crisis: the issue of secularism, of multiculturalism, of our daily tragedy of migration and uprooted peoples. The problem is that their analysis is boxed inside the modern period and its time frame. What changes with this century is not that our view of history is better than our forefathers', but simply that now-as 2017 approaches-we can see this pattern from outside and above the viewpoint of the masters who came before us.

The claim I start from and intend vigorously to uphold is that, over the last fifty years, the historian's perspective has altered enormously, just as daily historical events have changed with globalization and mushrooming technology. We now stand outside the long historical cycle that generated the Europe into which my own generation was born. We have thrown off confessional-ecclessiastical historiography but are far from acquiring a historically appropriate awareness to guide our research and divulge its insights.

As for the unfolding of historical events these last fifty years, everything has changed around us. In the 1950s the panorama in which Western man grew up had been splendidly captured by Gabriel Le Bras in a short study that I hail as one of the best things written in our field: L'Eglise et le village (Paris, 1976). …

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