Protestants, Catholics, and Jews in Germany, 1800-1914

By Helmut Walser Smith | Go to book overview

10
The Catholic Missionary Crusade
and the Protestant Revival in
Nineteenth-Century Germany
Michael B. Gross

At the height of the 1848 Revolution, liberal and democratic delegates met at the National Assembly in Frankfurt to plan the political reform and national unification of Germany. In the fall of that year, their work was interrupted when angry crowds stormed the Assembly in an effort to oust conservatives and radicalize the revolution. When Prussian troops intervened to restore order, radical-democrats threw up barricades throughout the city. Fighting raged in the streets until the radicals were subdued with artillery barrages and infantry assaults. The street battles in Frankfurt were only part of the wave of democratic demonstrations and radical movements breaking out all over western Germany. Shortlived insurrections erupted in Cologne, the largest city of the Rhineland, and then again in the Grand Duchy of Baden. 1

Meanwhile, not much farther up the Main River in Würzburg, a wholly different kind of meeting was taking place. Here the bishops and archbishops of the dioceses of the Catholic Church in Germany assembled to assess the tumultuous events erupting across Germany and to plan the counter-revolution. They believed that the revolutions were not fundamentally the result of political movements and social unrest. The revolutions were both cause and effect of a deeper erosion of religion, morality and obedience among the people that threatened religious as much as secular authority. The bishops agreed that the Church could not stand idly to one side and watch Germany descend into chaos. They agreed, therefore, to commit the Church to an extraordinary measure: a full-fledged campaign of popular missions (Volksmissionen) to restore faith, obedience and order among Catholics all across Germany. In a pastoral letter to the priests of his diocese the bishop of Münster explained “There has never been a time more than our own when such extraordinary

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