Funny. I always thought the Wars of Religion or the 30 years war (1618-1648) took place between the Protestants and the Catholics and plunged Europe into nightmare. But while religion was given as the reason for war; there were many other reasons as well. These included land, money and economics, political power, natural resources, and more. Over time I think religion has taken the rap for all of the other reasons. Hence in the modern era you will find atheists who view religion as a source of evil – look at the hundreds of years of European history, don’t you “get” it?
I was taking my music course and found this explanation by Professor Robert Greenberg:
The series of horrific wars that devastated Germany between 1618 and 1648 are collectively referred to as the Thirty Years’ War. More than just a German war though, the Thirty Years’ War was a pan-European struggle in which politics and national self-interesto became inextricably intertwined with the religious issues that, ostensibly, had given rise to the conflict in the first place.
That part of Germany that embraced Lutheranism had been, before Reformation, part of what was called the Holy Roman Empire, a political conglomerate created in 800 when Pope Leo III, crowned Charlemagne, or “Charles the Great,” emperor of the new Holy Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Empire was founded for two reasons: one, to consolidate the power of the church across a vast stretch of only slightly civilized Europe and two, as a defensive bulwark against non-Christians, which included everyone from Vikings to Muslims.
The Holy Roman Empire was, by definition, a Catholic Empire. If a substantial part of it should cease being Catholic, well then it no longer had any reason to be. This was not lost on the Holy Roman Empire’s chief ally, the Catholic Habsburg Empire, based in Austria. The Habsburgs saw Protestantism as an intolerable threat to its national interests, so the Austrians declared war on Protestantism and brought the tremendous resources of their empire to bear on the Protestants of Germany.
Meanwhile, to the West, the French saw a resurgent Habsburg Empire as being extremely dangerous to their own national interests. As a result, and talk about strange bedfellows — Catholic France allied itself with the Protestants so that it could fight the Catholic Habsburgs on German soil, which sure beat fighting them on French soil.
The English, who were always at odds with the French, nevertheless allied themselves with the French during the Thirty Years’ War, not just because the English were Protestant and it was in their best interest to keep part of Germany Protestant, but because they feared the growing power of the Austrians more than they feared the French.
The Lutheran King of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus, invaded Germany. Entire armies of mercenaries and criminals roamed central Europe, changing sides at will depending upon who had the upper hand and where the loot was. It was a terrible time, one that left Germany devastated.
The war ended in 1648, with Protestantism firmly established in what today is central and northern Germany.
So the “Religious Wars,” in the final analysis, resulted from (as Archbishop Scola noted in the previous post) the rigid admixture [vocab: The state of being mingled or mixed] of political power and religion that ruined the attempt in the Edict of Milan to define religious freedom. Heresy also muddied the waters.
The violence really raged all the way from the 1500’s by some estimations. Certainly that earlier era which produced the Edict of Milan in 313AD, when Constantine and Licinius, were the only two signatories to the Edict, “marked not only the gradual ending of the persecution of Christians but, above all, albeit within the limits of its time, the dawn of religious freedom.”
The notion of religious freedom, which, at the superficial level, attracts very wide approval, has in reality always to some degree lacked clarity. Archbishop Scola identified three complexities that muddied the waters of the modern era:
- The relationship between objective truth and individual conscience;
- The way that religious communities relate to state power;
- From the Christian theological point of view, the question of the interpretation of the universality of salvation in Christ, in contrast to the plurality of religions and world visions (“substantive” ethical visions)
I wanted here to address the first in a little more in depth from an essay I found by William E. Carroll in The Catholic Thing:
“There are few more famous phrases in American history than the Declaration of Independence’s affirmation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as inalienable, God-given rights. These rights, especially liberty, have come to be pillars of American culture. But the increasing emphasis on the radical autonomy of each human being has led in our time to a divorce between freedom and any notion of an objective order of truth. This is especially evident in various ethical theories that identify man’s dignity merely with the act of choice.
It is true that freedom is a distinguishing human characteristic, but such freedom is grounded in an objective order of value; in fact, without such a grounding, without an essential ordering to what is true, freedom becomes a caricature of its real meaning. In our culture, it seems easy to forget, as President Obama has several times recently, that, in the original context, liberty and our inalienable rights have their source in the Creator.
One manifestation of this modern tendency to separate freedom from truth can be found in arguments about the primacy of conscience. Often appeals to this principle are at the core of justifications for dissent from the Church’s teachings on a wide range of moral questions. Such arguments have been particularly attractive to many Americans, accustomed as they are to look at themselves and their society in terms of individual freedom and autonomy. The primacy of conscience, thus, seems to express a moral imperative.
As with human freedom, the role of conscience in moral decisions is a central tenet of Christian belief. But conscience and its primacy need to be understood correctly. In both popular culture and in the more sophisticated writings of some moral theologians, conscience has changed into something quite different from its traditional sense.
Conscience is the act or condition of knowing the appropriate course to follow in a given situation. From the Latin cum scientia (conscientia), which means “with knowledge,” conscience is a habit or disposition of the intellect concerning specific human behavior. It is a judgment of practical reason rather than of speculative reason; that is, it is a judgment about praxis, about a course of action to be taken or an evaluation of action already performed. The obligation to follow one’s conscience flows from what conscience is. The summons of conscience to do what is good in particular concrete circumstances demands obedience only because it is the application of the objective and universal moral good.
The error into which many fall is to think that to judge an action to be good makes it good. But the judgment conscience makes is not infallible; one’s conscience could be poorly formed or one could act in ignorance, not knowing that a particular act is evil. Those who think that moral maturity, and hence moral well being, are only constituted by the autonomous decision of one’s conscience, misunderstand the role of conscience.
Conscience is not some independent capacity to decide what is good and evil. Conscience functions within the moral order; it does not constitute that order. The moral imperative to follow one’s conscience is an obligation in the practical order not the speculative order: conscience commands behavior, it does not determine truth. Pope John Paul II made this point with great clarity in his encyclical, Veritatis Splendor:
In the practical judgment of conscience, which imposes on the person the obligation to perform a given act, the link between freedom and truth is made manifest. Precisely for this reason conscience expresses itself in acts of judgment which reflect the truth about the good, and not in arbitrary decisions. The maturity and responsibility of these judgments – and, when all is said and done, of the individual who is their subject – are not measured by the liberation of the conscience from objective truth, in favor of an alleged autonomy in personal decisions, but, on the contrary, by an insistent search for truth and by allowing oneself to be guided by that truth in one’s actions. 
Both conscience and freedom are ultimately unintelligible apart from an order of truth and goodness. The first principle of practical judgment, that is, of human action, is to do good and avoid evil. Practical judgment presupposes an understanding of good and evil by which it then measures the rightness or wrongness of particular actions. Both reason and faith allow man to discover that primordial insight about good and evil.
The recognition that some acts are inherently immoral regardless of the intention of the agent (e.g., abortion) is either a conclusion of speculative reason or a matter of revelation and is not called into question, much less invalidated, by the fact that a particular individual’s conscience might lead him to behave as though these acts are good.
No matter how much one intends to do good, inherently wrong acts remain evil and thus are detrimental to the well-being of the agent, even if the agent is ignorant of that evil. I might drink a glass of sulfuric acid, intending to satisfy my thirst, unaware of what the glass contains. Nevertheless, the effect of such action is physical illness. So too with evil acts, which necessarily result in moral illness, regardless of whether one judges them to be good.
American individualism is particularly susceptible to the error of making human subjectivity, expressed in the distorted notion of the primacy of conscience, the criterion of human dignity. Such a view involves the denial of true freedom and dignity; it leads to a society in which human choice serves as its own justification. What is right becomes nothing more than what is chosen.”