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Thread: Kulturkampf: Bismarck vs. Papal Infallibility

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    Default Kulturkampf: Bismarck vs. Papal Infallibility

    Brilliant, cautious, calculating, and pragmatic, these are just some of the words that only begin to describe the political genius of Otto Von Bismarck. If politics were ever a game of chess, then Bismarck was always eight moves ahead of everybody else. He is the main architect of German unification (successfully defeating Austrian influence through Realpolitik), and the mastermind behind three quick and successful wars with Denmark, France, and Austria. In each case, he skillfully used diplomacy and manipulation to ensure that Prussia exited the war with more allies than it had previously. Yet, he was not above compromising and using reconciliation and treaties as a tool for political power, often allowing his defeated opponents to align with him for mutual benefit. In each case, Bismarck’s genius was in isolating his enemies. Knowing when to deal and when to fold.


    The Iron Chancellor


    After uniting the German states under Prussian rule, one major obstacle remained that threaten Prussia’s version of German nationalism, Pope Pius IX and the Catholic Church.


    An opponent unlike any other, the Pope’s powers had traditionally been far reaching. Able to claim legitimacy and independence of any state government (the closest thing to a sovereign multi-national body), Bismarck’s primarily concern was that Germany’s Catholic population and clergy would be more loyal to the Church in Rome than to the state. This of course was very problematic when Roman Catholics in Germany numbered 15 million (36.5% of the population) and the fact that they were disproportionately located in Polish communities, areas of the Reich that did not speak German and often clashed violently with Prussian settlers. Those Poles of course, who weren’t Catholic, also tended to be social democrats, whereas working in communal mines and farming villages differed significantly with both Prussian landowners (who valued private estates) and Progressive bureaucrats who valued free-trade. Combine these cultural differences (the Polish Question) with the fact that Prussia’s constitution had traditionally respected and guaranteed special autonomy and freedoms to Roman Catholics (including state funding for catholic schools and a private council of bishops who could meet and petition the government) and you have the makings of ruin for national identity. 60% of Germany’s population was Protestant, its true, and they also had similar constitutional privileges to their Catholic counterparts, yet Protestants and Lutherans were not nearly as global, multinational, or political (with a sovereign figure) as the Catholic Church. Of major concern, and a slap to German nationalists, was the fact that a non-German Pope still appointed non German Bishops, who in turn ran the schools, ran the charities, ran the hospitals, handled marriages, spoke foreign languages, lived in separate communities, published newspapers, and ran most parishes, in many cases with constitutional protection and state backing – including legitimacy and authority that came from God. A reckoning and war between Church and State was coming.


    Bismarck vs. Pope Pius IX - Kulturkampf (1871-1879)


    It’s unclear who fired first, historians like to say that the Vatican’s official proclamation of Papal Infallibility in 1870 was a direct attack against Liberalism. The decree proclaimed the Pope’s authority over Christian dogma to be binding and infallible, completely immune to the possibility of error, a ridiculous moral assertion, yet godly if ever put into practice. Bismarck’s obvious fears were the loss of state power to papal decrees and any chance of regulating the Church with any kind of tangible authority (an infallible Pope would also lead to infallible ministers). Yet, historians should note that Pope Pius IX was playing a weak hand, having lost temporal power the same year to the kingdom of Italy, and not too many Europeans or Catholics were willing to restore the Papal States. Ultramontanism (including Papal Infallibility) was thus the Vatican’s way of adapting the Pope’s authority for the future – it no longer needed a physical kingdom for legitimacy because the Pope’s authority came from God, and his actual subjects were the spiritual followers of Christ. In this sense, the Church was adapting itself to the times, a strictly religious role and spiritual kingdom without borders. Yet secularism was on the rise, along with scientific literacy and liberalism, and Papal Infallibility (now codified for the first time) was not a popular proposal with philosophical and intellectual thinkers, including many Catholics who believed Papal Infallibility -along with the recent Syllabus of Errors- went too far. It is not inconceivable then, that Bismarck and his coalition saw an opportunity.


    Bismarck’s overall goal again, was to separate church from state and protect German national identity (albeit with Prussian preferences), and his first step was to exercise state authority over education and religious/government appointments. To do this though, he would need to isolate Germany’s new Centre Party – a coalition of German Catholics and German minorities. Though not large enough to take on Liberals, Conservative, or Protestant factions, it was still a force (and legislative annoyance) that needed to be dealt with.


    Under the guise of “equality” and “equal protection of the laws,” Kulturkampf began with the creation of the Ministry of Culture (a fusion of separate Catholic and Protestant education wings) to oversee the future regulation and state inspection of all public and private schools – including Catholic ones. The next law immediately enacted was the Pulpit Law, a controversial new law that could in theory imprison Catholic priests and clergymen who voiced poltical opionions before a crowd or national assembly. Bismarck’s strategy then, and justification, was the classic secularist argument for the separation of Church and State, - the Church (Bismarck argued) had no right to interfere with or dictate state politics. Yet, unlike the American model (and German constitution), the German parliament was also clearly enacting laws that interfered with the free governance of religion. Bismarck countered however, with the claim that the German Centre Party was monopolized by Rome, and its interests were a clear obstacle to individual freedom and a healthy separation of Church and State. Winning arguments it appeared for both liberal secularists, conservatives, and anti-Catholic factions. Bismarck, it seemed, would win by isolating his opponents once again.

    Bismarck on the purpose of the Kulturkampf, Speech in the Prussian House of Lords, March 10th 1873
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    :https://www.zum.de/psm/imperialismus/bismarck3e.php

    "The question we currently deal with, in my opinion, is falsely described, and the perspective by which we look at it, is a wrong one, if one regards it as a confessional one. It is mainly a political one; it is not about the struggle, as our Catholic fellow citizens are told, of a Protestant dynasty against the Catholic church, it is not a struggle between believers and unbelievers, it is the age-old struggle between kingship and priesthood, a power struggle as old as mankind, older than the appearance on earth of our saviour, the power struggle Agamemnon fought with his seers in Aulis, the power struggle which shaped the German history in the Middle Ages, leading to the desintegration of the German Empire, in the form of the conflict between emperors and popes, and which resulted in the execution of the last descendant of the illustrious Swabian dynasty by the axe of a French conqueror, a French conqueror alied with the pope.


    This power struggle is subject to the same conditions as any other struggle; it is a misinterpretation of the question with the object to impress people without judgment, if it is described as a matter of oppression of the church. It is a matter of defense of the state, of a delimitation, inhowhar priesthood and inhowfar royal rule shall reach, this delimitation has to be found in a way that the state can continue to exist. Because in this world the state claims both authority and priority."




    What Bismarck did not anticipate however, was a wave of cultural resentment that centered in Prussia.

    Though Bismarck’s initial goal was to regulate Church influence -as it pertained to politics-, it was not to defeat or extinguish Catholicism itself. A pragmatic, but impossible goal given the prejudices of his coalition. Prussians despised Catholic Poles and considered them Reichsfeinde (enemies of the Reich). Polish migrations to the Ruhr area were also viewed with deep cultural suspicion, and evidence of a nationalist takeover. Meanwhile, liberal secularists saw state inspections of all Prussian schools as a way to finally outlaw religion in the classroom, the ultimate triumph of progress over tradition. Additionally, conservative leaders, along with Protestant allies, jumped at the chance to declare a culture war on Catholics, pushing for even more measures of Germanization and an end to cultural and racial impurities. Even Bismarck, who so often separated policy from ideology, betrayed his ideological leanings when he suggested European leaders ought to help select the next Pope, and that the Polish question would only be settled through violence or deportation. The end result was an uncontrollable wave of anti-Catholic sentiment, and a series of new laws and policies that were aimed at controlling and dissembling the Catholic Church in Prussia.


    Beginning in 1872, Prussia’s Parliament (separate from the Reichstag) passed the School Supervision Act, which formally removed Catholic curriculums and clergy from Prussian schools. And on the national side, Bismarck expelled the Jesuits from Germany when Pope Pius IX refused to recognize Germany’s ambassador (a Cardinal who had opposed Papal Infallibility) or temper public support for Germany’s Centre Party. Prussia’s constitution was also amended to accommodate the new laws, and many Catholic ministers were removed from office. Finally, amid obvious protesting from German Catholics and Catholic Bishops, formal diplomatic relations between Germany and Rome were suspended. The culture war was on.


    The crisis reached a fever pitch however with the appointment of Adalbert Falk to the Ministry of Education. For his part, Adalbert Falk attempted to place strict government control over religious training and ecclesiastical appointments, eventually leading to the controversial May Laws in 1873. These laws -while intending to disrupt the Pope’s connections to German seminaries- gave the government far reaching powers to regulate and select Priests. Priests who refused to submit themselves to special state exams and disciplinary courts faced fines, imprisonment, and exile. In addition, new legislation was passed that allowed state incentives for German citizens to leave Catholic orders, and in 1874 a new state law was passed that allowed civil marriages for the first time.


    “WE WILL NOT GO TO CANOSSA!”

    -Otto Von Bismarck, 1872. Inferred from Canossa speech to Reichstag

    Catholic opposition to Kulturkampf and the May Laws of course was immense. Nearly all German bishops, clergy and laymen rejected the legality of the new laws, with the Pope himself publically decrying them. Nearly 1,800 Priests were imprisoned, and a third of all monasteries and churches in Prussia were closed due to vacancies. Though there were instances of violence, many Catholics chose to leave the country, others sought more passive forms of resistance. Those that stayed sought and hosted mass and Sunday schools in their homes, others setup underground charities to support and fund non-government priests. For their part, Catholic Bishops issued formal letters of dissent and the number of Catholic newspapers -both public and underground- grew. The Centre Party also nearly doubled in size – both in the Reichstag and Prussian Parliament, and its leader, Ludwig Windthorst, became a popular hero for German minorities.


    The one exception to an otherwise peaceful opposition was the attempted assassination of Otto Von Bismarck. While the perpetrator clearly acted alone, its aftermath gave security officials political cover to confiscate church property in the event Catholics did not comply with state mandates, though other retaliatory measures included the confiscation of Catholic newspapers and the extradition of Catholic bishops.


    In all, Kulturkampf had the opposite effect of what Bismarck had intended. Rather then push Catholics towards the state, many felt unjustly persecuted, which made their participation in the Centre Party essential. Living under a police state -including threats of extradition and constant supervision- also forced Prussian Catholics to rely more on each other and their communities, both for spiritual care and protection. Of particular embarrassment to non-Catholic Liberals -who otherwise supported Kulturkampf- was the house arrest of several elderly bishops and archbishops, many in their 70s and 80s. Many ties between Rome and German Catholics were also strengthened.


    By 1878, Bismarck’s coalition was finally showing its weakness. Liberals could no longer support Kulturkampf if it did not advance individual freedom. An all-powerful authoritarian government -which could fine, imprison, and extricate citizens who voiced political dissent- also ran contrary to liberal ideas. Protestants themselves were also growing wary of state intervention in public schools; the loss of religious teaching, and religious ministers, made them feel as if Germany and Prussia were becoming a heathen state. Even Junkers and Conservatives -members of Bismarck’s own political class- resented the loss of Christian traditions, including Christian marriages. Most alarming to Bismarck however, was the rise of a Socialist Movement, which took Kulturkampf as an opportunity to attack all religions. Seeing the writing the on the wall -including the Centre Party which was growing stronger- Bismarck took it upon himself to personally resolve the culture war.


    Bismarck’s opportunity came with the death of Pope Pius IX and coronation of Pope Leo III in 1879. In this event, Bismarck acted brilliantly. He entered direct negotiations with Pope Leo III, sidestepping the Reichstag, but also the Centre Party. During negotiations he was able to receive concessions, which included papal support for a civil registry of German clerics, in return for a slow process of repealing the Kulturkampf laws. Bismarck also restored diplomatic relations and supported the Pope in international affairs, including a Spanish territorial dispute, which allowed the Pope to abstain on Bismarck’s domestic agenda, such as public education and military spending. But by pardoning bishops, restoring diplomatic relations, and supporting the Pope on international affairs, Bismarck was awarded the Supreme Order of Christ, becoming the first Protestant to ever receive an award for Catholic chivalry. For his part, and arguably weak hand, Pope Leo III gained a powerful ally in Germany on a continent that was becoming ever more hostile to theology and Catholic tradition. Yet, by waiting for the death of Pope Pius IX, Bismarck was able to substitute his feud with Catholic ideology with Pope Pius’s personality, a brilliant safe facing measure that helped make political reconciliation possible – including an alliance with the Centre Party against the socialists. Germany’s relations with Austria were also secured through the Dual Alliance, an unlikely event if Prussian Protestants had been allowed to dominate German politics. In short however, by securing political interests, not yielding to the Centre Party, and showcasing remarkable restraint, Bismarck also showed that Germany would bow to no power but its own.
    Last edited by Dick Cheney.; June 20, 2019 at 08:57 AM.
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    Default Re: Kulturkampf: Bismarck vs. Papal Infallibility

    Its very true when you say the Catholic church had a very weak hand in the 1870's. With the failure of a return to Catholic Ultra monarchy in France despite the election of McMahon as President, the failure of the Carlists in Spain, and above all the loss of Rome to the Kingdom of Italy the Papal faction that had wrestled power over all other organs of the church (even the once almighty Emperor, and the highly trusted councils) were faced with an existential crisis. Their response was to depart from reality. The Popes remained self-appointed prisoners in the Vatican until after WWI, basically with the heads in the sand (or elsewhere), declaring "non possumus" as if they were martyrs for having their ill gotten lands occupied. Forged decretals and all that.

    This is the era of shrill ultra conservative doctrines like Papal Infallibility (ignoring actual contradictions between past popes, its wasn't a logical doctrine, more of a scream of insane arrogance) and the immaculate conception, the bizarre insistence that the Virgin Mary was born without sin. There are other examples of the tone deaf over-reach of the Catholic Church in the 19th century such as the re-establishment of Catholic espicopacies in Britain (after emancipation was won not by the Church but by Irish nationalist politicians like Dan O'Connell): they essentially created a mirror of the existing CoE hierarchy, essentially stating the Reformation had not happened and the existing protestant bishops were invalid. It gave great strength to the already vehement anti-Catholic sentiment and created problems for all Great British Catholics.

    Down the centuries the Papal faction of the church has given much ammunition to its critics by acting like cartoon villains. I think much of the evil in the church comes from this political anomaly that has tried to recreate the Roman Empire complete with a pagan official (Pontiff) at its head.
    Jatte lambastes Calico Rat

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    hellheaven1987's Avatar Comes Domesticorum
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    Default Re: Kulturkampf: Bismarck vs. Papal Infallibility

    So what was the role of southern German regions in this feud?
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    Default Re: Kulturkampf: Bismarck vs. Papal Infallibility

    Quote Originally Posted by hellheaven1987 View Post
    So what was the role of southern German regions in this feud?
    Good question. From what I've gathered, Kulturkampf was mostly a Prussian phenomenon, driven by the fear of mass party politics. The inclusion of new social groups (such as Hanover, Poles, Jews, and Catholics) threatened Prussian majorities and spelled doom to the Junker class. The Pulpit Law, that outlawed political speech from clergymen, is one such example of a retaliatory measure. Violence against Poles and Catholic immigrants -who didn’t speak German- another. In any case, social anxiety -and outright bigotry (such as Reichsfeinde)- drove Bismarck's feud with Pope Pius IX beyond a normal and healthy clash of Church and State.

    This is not to say though that Kulturkamf was not tried in the Southern States. In Bavaria, government ministers -such as Choldwig Viktor- opposed Papal Infallibility on liberal grounds that it threatened the modern state. Old Catholics - a breakaway union of old Catholic churches in Southern Germany- challenged ultramonanism on grounds that papal infallibility and immaculate conception were morally ridiculous. A Bavarian version of a state education bill -that would have overhauled ecclesial appointments- was actually brought before the Bavarian parliament but rejected from regionalist factions who feared it would lead to Prussian appointed ministers. Many Southern Germans of course, had economic differences with Prussia when it came to economics and Prussian politics, favoring regional economies over national ones.

    The South’s most essential role though seems to be the growth of the Centre Party. When Bismarck sided with the Old Catholics for instance, it was proclaimed as evidence of politicians trying to replace Catholicism vs the intended separation of Church and State. Alienating minorities and Catholics then made political participation essential, and Catholics in Southern Germany (including Bavarian patriots) were recruited in mass into the Centre Party.

    Hope that answers your question. Just now started reading about Kulturkampf after stumbling on it from a biography on Bismarck. It’s an extremely interesting piece of history, with modern day parallels, which is why I thought it deserved a thread.
    Last edited by Dick Cheney.; June 19, 2019 at 06:44 AM.
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    Default Re: Kulturkampf: Bismarck vs. Papal Infallibility

    Bismarck is a staggeringly powerful figure. I think he is best known for his statement "Not through speeches and majority decisions will the great questions of the day be decided—that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849 - but by iron and blood" but he did much to limit war, and create lasting peace in its wake.

    I recall a flip statement by a British Historian (I forget exactly who) that between Napoleon and Hitler the only towering figure is Bismarck. I think this shows great ignorance but he did more to shape national boundaries than anyone apart from those two really (perhaps Woodrow Wilson is the unlikely fourth in terms of shaping the globe: an honest and altruistic man in a quartet with a military genius, a cunning ).

    You mention in the OP that Bismarck was known for isolating his enemies and turning them into friends after he defeated them. This feat cannot be underestimated, nor can the importance of his political maxims. The first was that the Balkans are not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian Grenadier (I want to make a joke that maybe a married Pomeranian Grenadier wouldn't mind dying, but this is a serious forum). The other was to maintain the Russian alliance at all costs to prevent the Frederickan nightmare of a two front war.

    Need to photoshop good advice guy's hand in there...
    Jatte lambastes Calico Rat

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    hellheaven1987's Avatar Comes Domesticorum
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    Default Re: Kulturkampf: Bismarck vs. Papal Infallibility

    Quote Originally Posted by Dick Cheney. View Post
    From what I've gathered, Kulturkampf was mostly a Prussian phenomenon, driven by the fear of mass party politics. The inclusion of new social groups (such as Hanover, Poles, Jews, and Catholics) threatened Prussian majorities and spelled doom to the Junker class.
    But the problem is Prussian and Junker class were never majority in Rhineland, you know, the other half of Prussia.
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    Default Re: Kulturkampf: Bismarck vs. Papal Infallibility

    Quote Originally Posted by hellheaven1987 View Post
    But the problem is Prussian and Junker class were never majority in Rhineland, you know, the other half of Prussia.
    Not necessarily. The majority of Prussians were Protestant, which partially explains the Prussian phenomenon. However, it would have been more accurate had I said the Prussian elite (to include conservatives) feared losing control due to the increase of mass party politics that resulted from unification. Their coalitions obviously had to carry a majority when passing new laws in the Landstand. I also want to say that the elite were a majority in the House of Lords and made up a majority of government ministers.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cyclops View Post
    Bismarck is a staggeringly powerful figure....You mention in the OP that Bismarck was known for isolating his enemies and turning them into friends after he defeated them. This feat cannot be underestimated, nor can the importance of his political maxims. The first was that the Balkans are not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian Grenadier (I want to make a joke that maybe a married Pomeranian Grenadier wouldn't mind dying, but this is a serious forum). The other was to maintain the Russian alliance at all costs to prevent the Frederickan nightmare of a two front war.
    Bismarck was the man, another reason I made the thread. The match up between the king of Realpolitik and the human embodiment of transcendent power was as good as it gets in terms of political heavyweights.

    I'm only now getting to learning about him, so I'm not willing to say he mishandled Kulturkampf. His concerns for the future stability of the empire were real, as were his concerns for the separation of Church and State. He did not anticipate the amount of anti-Catholic bigotry that would hijack his movement, yet he was willing to take control and change direction once he realized his coalition was carrying an ideological component. By doing so, he was able to fend off socialists, strengthen his alliance with Austria, achieve a peace with the Centre Party, and save face, all the while earning a medal from the Church for doing it.

    Really hope I was fair to both sides - the OP is obviously meant to be an introduction. The Church's position was also legit, the loss of temporal power and rise of Liberalism were threats to the long-term survival of the Papacy. Historians debate if Papal infallibility was meant as a response to Liberalism - but it also makes sense for the Church to evolve with the times. In the final analysis, I feel the Church's reactions to Kulturkampf were just and handled well.
    Last edited by Dick Cheney.; June 20, 2019 at 09:38 AM.
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    Default Re: Kulturkampf: Bismarck vs. Papal Infallibility

    Quote Originally Posted by Dick Cheney. View Post
    ...
    Really hope I was fair to both sides - the OP is obviously meant to be an introduction. The Church's position was also legit, the loss of temporal power and rise of Liberalism were threats to the long-term survival of the Papacy. Historians debate if Papal infallibility was meant as a response to Liberalism - but it also makes sense for the Church to evolve with the times. In the final analysis, I feel the Church's reactions to Kulturkampf were just and handled well.
    I disagree. I don't think you're required to try and find legitimacy on both sides of a argument, especially such an extreme point as papal infallibility.

    The Catholic church as a whole struggled with the rapid change of the 19th and 20th centuries, but generally the papacy was a grim, ignorant, political retarding force. The merest acquaintance with Irish political history will supply examples of Catholic layfolk and church leaders dealing with their problems only to have the papacy come over the top (in the name of absolute centralised power) and impose hamfisted solutions that often created more problems.

    For example with the Catholic Emancipation movement in Great Britain( still not complete-the monarch must be C of E) came the official tolerance of the priesthood. Irish (and IIRC all British) parishes had maintained their priests by voluntary contributions and the calibre of the priests was high: they were nominally in danger at all times so they were only there because they wanted to be there. They responded to their communities concerns with local immediacy and provided a great argument (compared with "fox-hunting curates") that he Catholic church was a positive force in Irish society.

    With toleration came papal insistence that the priests be paid from a central authority and we see the rise of the apparatchik priest stereotype, which bore its most evil fruit in the tidal wave of rapist priests (protected by the hierarchy, above all the papacy) that so blighted Irieland many other countries too). We also see the dull bludgeon of Catholic education, exploitation and social stigmatisation in the form the the Magdalene Laundries etc.

    I am very much aware of the great institutions and people in he Catholic tradition. I was raised a catholic and have seen and worked in the many wonderful charitable and social institutions. Good Catholics are like good believers of all faiths, they do good because they love people and the Catholic church through the laity and orders etc does so much good. The papal hierarchy squats atop this system like a blood sucking spider, insisting on its own primacy before any other idea is even considered. there's really only one test for the cardinals: does it make Rome more powerful? Questions of good and evil are at best irrelevant.

    I think the crisis of the late 19th century is an example of the papacy striving and burning to impose is rule in Germany, where the state was slowly (and efficiently) extending is power in ways already established in say France or Britain. Given the vast administrative apparatus of the Church and its importance across Germany the Prussian state (and the Reich) Bismarck was bond to collide with papal authority t some point. That he was able to negotiate a solution and even ally with the moderate German Catholics is a testament to his ability, the popes usually preferred to deal with bloody handed aristocrats
    Jatte lambastes Calico Rat

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