It is the 24th of October 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
It is not uncommon for historians to suggest that the Reformation movement marked the beginning of the modern world. We need some nuance to discuss how (and how not) but let’s take the basics. Parallel to the Renaissance the Reformation began asking questions about emancipation and individualism. From Luther to Michelangelo, Durer, Zwingli the self took a new place of prominence in western thinking. But it was still primarily about the self.
The development of the modern state is also a product of the Reformation- but that gets a little trickier. The first question to ask about the Reformation (or Early Modern period) is “when did it end?” And unfortunately, historians disagree. But I agree with those historians who place the end of the Reformation in 1648 with the end of the Thirty Years War and the Peace of Westphalia. And guess what? It just so happens that that groundbreaking Peace of Westphalia (which we’ve talked about before) was signed on this, the 24th of October in 1648.
Quick refresher or introduction on the 30 Years War.
It isn’t inappropriate to make parallels to the first World War. It involved many European countries in various theaters fighting for various reasons. When it ended the treaty was supposed to end all future wars wherein they both actually lead to other wars… just different Wars.
The War starts as an internal beef between the Bohemians and the House of Habsburg (this is the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand). Ferdinand wanted to rescind the old Peace of Augsburg and re-Catholicize the empire. Protestant Bohemians wanted nothing to do with it, there is a defenestration (look it up), and a battle at which the Bohemians are routed. Then the Protestant Danes who have land within the Holy Roman Empire decide to help the Bohemians and they are crushed too (sorry, if you don’t know the HRE- think jumbo Germany). Possibly the largest Protestant state in continental Europe was Sweden under Gustavus Adolphus. They want to help but don’t have the funds. Do you know who helps them? The French. The Catholic French under the House of Bourbon and Cardinal Richelieu! Why would a Catholic France support a Protestant Sweden fighting a Catholic Empire? Because the war of religion would soon give way to war for national sovereignty. Adolphus is killed and this turns the tide but then the French go all-in against the Empire and that is that. A peace was discussed in 1641 and it took 7 years to hammer out. When all the involved parties decided to meet and sign in 1644 it took 4 years just to decide who would sit where and in what building. But when that document was signed the modern state was born.
The modern state would have a few important aspects, especially for the church and the fate of the Reformation. I’ll get to that one is a second.
First- nations would become sovereign. No other state had the right to tell another sovereign state what to do. This is the death knell for the HRE because now every head of state is their own de-facto emperor.
Secondly- warfare was revolutionized. I’ll give you just two examples: Adolphus began to use portable artillery. Secondly, standing armies began to be common (and this is rarely a good thing but not the point of this podcast).
Thirdly, nationalism should take over from confessional allegiance as the glue that bound citizens together.
And lastly, Christian pluralism would pave the way to an almost universal pluralistic state. As early as 1555 Lutheranism was legal in the empire, but that was it. Now Calvinists, Anabaptists, dissenters etc… could live in peace without fear. We can discuss religious pluralism and its benefits and drawbacks, but the modern western world would be unrecognizable if the religious question wasn’t answered. The Reformation first brought up the question of religion and the self, the 30 Years War which came to an end on this day in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia answered the question of religion and the state.
The last word for today comes from 1 Peter:
May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 4 You have a pure and enduring inheritance that cannot perish—an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heaven for you. 5Through his faithfulness, you are guarded by God's power so that you can receive the salvation he is ready to reveal in the last time. 6 You now rejoice in this hope, even if it's necessary for you to be distressed for a short time by various trials. 7 This is necessary so that your faith may be found genuine. (Your faith is more valuable than gold, which will be destroyed even though it is itself tested by fire.) Your genuine faith will result in praise, glory, and honor for you when Jesus Christ is revealed.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 24th of October 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite Peaces include Westphalia, the treaty of Paris (1814), “of cake” and Reeses. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who hopes Jared Goff is ok. But not today. I am Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.