The German Empire, 1867-1914, and the Unity Movement - Vol. 1

By William Harbutt Dawson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
( 1868-1883) CHURCH AND STATE

THE Empire was not a year old before the Government found itself committed to a struggle with ecclesiastical authority which shook the State almost to its foundations, recalling the bitter religious feuds of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This was the struggle with the Roman Catholic Church, nominally over the province of the State and ecclesiastical jurisdiction, actually over the claim of the Papacy to establish in the new Empire an independent dominion, governed by orders issued from Rome. Prussia was the principal scene of this struggle, though the issues which it raised affected all Germany, and few of the other States were able to maintain an altogether neutral position.

As was fitting in a country over one-third of whose population owned allegiance to the Roman Church, the constitution and the laws of Prussia gave explicit recognition to the rights of the confession of the minority. The Protestant or Evangelical Church was the Church of the State and of the dynasty, yet the Roman Church enjoyed equally with it practical liberty and self-government; it shared in the State endowment of religion; and provision was made at public cost for the education of its sons and daughters on confessional lines in school, seminary, and university. The King's position as summus episcopus applied only to the Protestant confession, and though appointments made to the Roman hierarchy in the monarchy needed royal confirmation, assent came to be regarded, in course of time, as a matter of form.

Successive Sovereigns, with a tolerance in religious matters which contrasted strongly with their narrowness in political, were not only just but generous in their treatment of the Roman Church, which was allowed to do its work in its own way with little outside interference. Early in the century Prussia, though a Protestant State, had accredited a permanent envoy

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