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Catholicism in Germany

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Catholicism in Germany

The German Catholic Church, part of the worldwide Catholic Church, is under the leadership of the Pope, assisted by the Roman Curia, and of the German bishops. The current president of the episcopal conference is Robert Zollitsch, Archbishop of Freiburg, the country's second largest diocese with 2.07 million Catholics.[1] The German church, due to a church tax compulsory for those who register civilly as Catholics, is the wealthiest Catholic Church in Europe. It is divided into 27 dioceses, 7 of them with the rank of metropolitan sees.[2] All the archbishops and bishops are members of the Conference of German Bishops.

Secularisation has had its impact in Germany as elsewhere in Europe; nevertheless, 30.7% of the total population is Catholic (25.177 million people as of December 2008),[3] down 0.3 percentage points from the previous year[4] and down 2% compared to the year 2000. Before the 1990 unification of the Federal Republic of Germany (or West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (or East Germany), Catholics were 45% of the population of West Germany[5] What makes it easier to know religious statistics in Germany is that Christian taxpayers must declare their religious affiliation as church tax is deducted by the State to be passed on to the relevant church in the state where the taxpayer lives.[6]

Apart from its demographic weight, German Catholicism has a very old religious and cultural heritage, which reaches back to both St. Boniface, apostle of Germany and first archbishop of Mainz, and to Charlemagne, buried at Aachen Cathedral. Notable religious sites include Ettal Abbey, Maria Laach Abbey, and Oberammergau, famous for its performance of the Passion Play, which takes place every 10 years. (The last performance of the Passion Play was in 2010.)

The German church also boasts of one of the most recognizable landmarks in all of Germany, Cologne Cathedral. Other notable Catholic cathedrals are in Freising, Mainz, Fulda, Paderborn, Regensburg, Frankfurt, Munich (Frauenkirche), Worms, Berlin (St. Hedwig's Cathedral, with crypt of Bernhard Lichtenberg), Bamberg, and Trier.[7]

History of Catholicism in Germany

Christianization of the Germans

The earliest stage of Christianization of the various Celtic people and Germanic people occurred only in the western part of Germany, the part controlled by the Roman empire. Christianization was facilitated by the prestige of the Christian Roman Empire amongst its pagan subjects and was achieved gradually by various means. The rise of Germanic Christianity was at times voluntary, particularly among groups associated with the Roman Empire. Aspects of primeval pagan religion have persisted to this day, including the names of the days of the week.

As Roman rule crumbled in Germany in 5th century, this phase of Catholicism in Germany came to an end with it. At first, the Gallo-Roman or Germano-Roman populations were able to retain control over big cities such as Cologne and Trier, but in 459, these too were overwhelmed by the attacks of Frankish tribes. Most of the Gallo-Romans or Germano-Romans were killed or exiled.[8] The newcomers to the towns reestablished the observance of the pagan rites.[9] The small remaining Catholic population was powerless to protect its faith against the new ruling Frankish lords.

But as soon as 496, Frankish King Clovis I was baptized together with many members of his household. In contrast to the eastern German tribes, who became Arian Christians, he became a Catholic. Following the example of their king, many Franks were baptized too, but their Catholicism was intermixed with pagan rites.[9]

Over the next eight centuries, Irish, Scottish, and English missionaries reintroduced Christianity into the German territories. During the period of the Frankish Empire, the two most important of these missionaries were Columbanus, who was active in the Frankish Empire from 590, and St Boniface, who was active from 716. The missionaries, particularly the Scottish Benedictines, founded monasteries (Schottenklöster Scottish monasteries) in Germany, which were later combined into a single congregation governed by the Abbot of the Scots monastery at Regensburg. The conversion of the Germanic peoples began with the conversion of the Germanic nobility, who were expected to impose their new faith on the general population. This expectation was consistent with the sacral position of the king in Germanic paganism: the king is charged with interacting with the divine on behalf of his people. Hence the general population saw nothing wrong with their kings choosing their preferred mode of worship. The favoured method of showing the supremacy of the Christian belief was the destruction of the holy trees of the Germans. These were trees, usually old oaks or elm trees, dedicated to the gods. Because the missionary was able to fell the tree without being slain by the god, his Christian god had to be stronger.

The pagan sacrifices, known as blót, were seasonal celebrations where gifts were offered to appropriate gods and attempts were made to forecast what the coming season would be like. Similar events were sometimes convened in times of crisis, for much the same reasons.[10][11] The sacrifices, consisting of gold, weapons, animals, and even human beings, were hung on the branches of a holy tree.

The Hiberno-Scottish mission ended in 13th century. Supported by native Christians, they succeeded in Christianizing all of Germany.

Catholicism as the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire

In medieval times, Catholicism was the only official religion within the Holy Roman Empire. (There were resident Jews, but they were not considered citizens of the empire.) Within the empire the Catholic Church was a major power. Large parts of the territory were ruled by ecclesiastical lords. Three of the seven seats in the council of electors of the Holy Roman Empires were occupied by Catholic archbishops: the Arch-chancellor of Burgundy (archbishop of Trier), the Arch-chancellor of Italy (archbishop of Cologne), and the Arch-chancellor of Germany (archbishop of Mainz). The Holy Roman Emperor could only become such by coronation of the Pope.

The Protestant Reformation

Burghers and monarchs were united in their frustration at the Catholic Church not paying any taxes to secular states while itself collecting taxes from subjects and sending the revenues disproportionately to Italy. Martin Luther denounced the Pope for involvement in politics. Luther's doctrine of the two kingdoms justified the confiscation of church property and the crushing of the Great Peasant Revolt of 1525 by the German nobles. This explains the attraction of some territorial princes to Lutheranism. Along with confiscated Catholic church property, ecclesiastical (Catholic) dominions became the personal property of the holder of the formerly religious office, for the right to rule was attached to this office.

On September 25, 1555, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and the forces of the Schmalkaldic League signed the Peace of Augsburg to officially end the religious wars between the Catholics and the Protestants. This treaty made legalized the partitioning of the Holy Roman Empire into Catholic and Protestant territories. Under the treaty, the religion of the ruler (either Lutheranism or Catholicism) determined the religion of his subjects. This policy is widely referred to by the Latin phrase, cuius regio, eius religio ("whose reign, his religion", or "in the prince's land, the prince's religion"). Families were given a period in which they were free to emigrate to regions where their desired religion prevailed.

The religious intolerance and tensions within the Holy Roman Empire were one of the reasons of the Thirty Years' War, which would devastate most of Germany and kill twelve million people, two thirds of the population of the empire.

Secularization of church states in the aftermath of the French Revolution

In the war of the First Coalition, revolutionary France defeated the coalition of Prussia, Austria, Spain, and Britain. One result was the cession of the Rhineland to France by the Treaty of Basel in 1795. Eight years later, in 1803, to compensate the princes of the annexed territories, a set of mediatisations was carried out, which brought about a major redistribution of territorial sovereignty within the Empire. At that time, large parts of Germany were still ruled by Catholic bishops (95.000 km² with more than three million inhabitants). In the mediatisations, the ecclesiastical states were by and large annexed to neighbouring secular principalities. Only three survived as nonsecular states: the Archbishopric of Regensburg, which was raised from a bishopric with the incorporation of the Archbishopric of Mainz, and the lands of the Teutonic Knights and Knights of Saint John.

Monasteries and abbeys lost their means of existence as they had to abandon their lands. Paradoxically, the losses in church land and property made the national or local churches in Germany (as well as in the former Holy Roman Empire, France, Switzerland, and Austria) more dependent on Rome (ultramontane). This shift in the 1850s was sustained by a more zealous clergy, the revival of old teaching orders, the emergence of Marian confraternities, new religious congregations of men and women, and the holding of popular missions.[12][13]

Bismarck's Kulturkampf

In the mid-19th century, the Catholic Church was also seen as a political power, even in Protestant Prussia, exerting a strong influence on many parts of life. However, from the Catholics' point of view (especially where Catholics were the majority as in the Rhineland Province, the Saar, Alsace and Loraine, and Silesia), Catholics often felt intimidated by self-consciously Protestant rulers.

Catholicism and the Third Reich

The Pope believed that primarily it was his duty to save and look after Catholics. He made efforts to save some Jews, but only if they first converted to Christianity. The Vatican knew of the murder of the Jews very early on, as they had religious representatives in all of the occupied countries. Certain individual priests saved Jews but the Church, as an official body, did nothing significant to save the Jews of Europe.[14] As Adolf Hitler -- raised as an Austrian Catholic -- rose to power, the Catholic Church was ostensibly in opposition to Nazism as well as other ideologies like Communism, because these ideologies were deemed incompatible with Christian morals. Most Catholics and their bishops also expected their priests to promote the Catholic political Centre Party interests. In addition, the majority of Catholic-sponsored newspapers also supported the Centre Party over the National Socialist Party, except in Munich where some Catholics, both lay and clerics, supported the latter, and, on occasion and contrary to Catholic doctrine, (in the early 1920s) attacked a leading bishop for his defense of Jews.[15][16][17][18] Some bishops prohibited Catholics in their dioceses from joining the Nazi Party. This ban was dropped after Hitler's March 23, 1933, speech to the Reichstag in which he described Christianity as the foundation for German values.[19]

Catholicism in the German Democratic Republic

After World War II the Catholics in the zone occupied by the Soviet army found themselves under a militantly atheist government. Many parishes were cut off from their dioceses in the western part of Germany.

The present situation of Catholicism in Germany

According to data from 2009, only two of Germany's Bundesländer (federal divisions) have Catholic majorities: Bavaria in the southeast (55.1%) and Saarland in the west (63.4%) .[20] Besides these Bundesländer, parts of Rhineland-Palatinate, North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg have significant Catholic populations.

The state supports both the Catholic and Protestant churches. The state collects taxes for the churches and there is religious education in the schools, taught by teachers who have to be approved by the churches. Church taxes are "automatic paycheck deductions" taken from all registered church members, "regardless of how often members attend services."[21]

Catholicism in Germany today faces several challenges.

  • Traditionally, there were localities with Catholic majorities and cities of Protestant majorities; however, the mobility of modern society began to mix the population. Interconfessional married couples face the problem of not being able to share the same communion.[22] Also, because of continuing secularisation, most Bundesländer have become predominantly neither Catholic nor Protestant (in addition to the predominantly Catholic ones mentioned above, the only Protestant majority is found in the northern Schleswig-Holstein, 53.1%)[23]
  • Modern society is changing old structures. Exclusively Catholic environments are disintegrating, even in traditional areas like the Bundesland Bavaria where the Catholic majority was lost in the archdiocese of Munich (including the City of Munich and large parts of Upper Bavaria) as recently as in 2010[24]
  • The number of Catholics who attend Sunday mass has decreased (from 22% in 1990 to 13% in 2009).[25][26]

One of the biggest challenges facing the church is to retain the registered, tax-paying members (regardless of how often they attend services) to fund parishes and church agencies, especially its international relief organizations like Adveniat.[27] German Roman Catholics, however, are divided over the issue of a compulsory Church tax. Under the tax an additional 8 percent to 9 percent of personal income tax is deducted at source by the state from registered churchgoers (of Catholic and Protestant communities). Although the tax provides the Catholic and Lutheran churches with an exact membership count and a net income of 5.6 billion euros (in 2008) which has helped make the German Roman Catholic Church one of the wealthiest in the world, it forces out or excommunicates Catholics who wish to retain membership but do not want to pay the tax. Many Catholics favour leaving the system intact because it pays the salaries of thousands of church employees and contributes to the work of aid agencies such as Caritas, among others. Other Catholics say members should not have to be forced out of the church or excommunicated simply because they don't want to pay the Church tax.[28]

German popes

Eight popes have been either German or from Germanic tribes. Pope Boniface II, an Ostrogoth, served as the first Germanic pope from 530 to 532. The next German pope was Gregory V (Pope 996-999). The 11th century saw five German popes, including Leo IX, who was canonised as a saint.

The last Pope Benedict XVI, former Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, is a German, from Bavaria. Recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in her 9-page address at the Bavarian Catholic Academy's conference on "Political Action based on Christian Responsibility", noted that Benedict XVI's new encyclical Caritas in Veritate points to the way forward in the current economic crisis.

Other notable German Catholics

Adelaide, Abbess of Vilich, Konrad Adenauer, Anno II (Archbishop of Cologne), Bertha of Bingen, Bruno of Cologne, Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor, Christine of Stommeln, Albrecht Dürer, Edith Stein, Philipp Rösler, Franz von Papen, Albertus Magnus, Walter Kasper, Ludwig van Beethoven, Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Adalbert (Archbishop of Magdeburg), Annette Schavan, Franz, Duke of Bavaria, Christoph Probst, Margareta Ebner, Helmut Kohl, Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, Clemens Brentano, Henry Suso, Hildegard of Bingen, Ludwig Windthorst, Severin of Cologne, Alois Glück, Heinrich Lübke, Christian Wulff.

See also

Holy See – Germany relations


External links

  • The Catholic Church in Germany
  • German Bishops' Conference
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