Bismarck and Catholics in Germany

Bismarck and Catholics in Germany

1. Introduction
2. Otto von Bismarck’s influence on German History
3. Otto von Bismarck’s domestic policy and Catholics
a. Otto von Bismarck’s Kulturkampf as a policy oppressing Catholics and its causes
b. The essence of Kulturkampf
c. The consequences of Otto von Bismarck’s policy in relation to Catholics
4. Conclusion
5. Bibliography

Otto von Otto von Bismarck is one of the most outstanding figures in German history. His actions have always provoked numerous discussions and have been perceived unanimously by German society and all people inhabiting the territories, which were united by Prussia in German empire when Otto von Bismarck was its prime minister. Traditionally, the historical role of Otto von Bismarck is considered to be extremely important for the formation of a united and solid German state and this is one of the main achievements of Otto von Bismarck’s domestic and foreign policy.
At the same time, the means he used to achieve the unification of his country are often severely criticized since the analysis of his policy reveals that the main principle of Otto von Bismarck was the principle that the end justifies the means. As a result, many people and even countries suffered from such a strategy of Otto von Bismarck aiming at the unification of Germany. On the international level, it resulted in numerous wars that German empire led by Prussia held, while on the national level, it resulted in oppression of citizens, their rights and freedom.
One of the most evident symbols of oppression of civil rights may be considered Otto von Bismarck’s policy in relation to the Roman Catholic Church in German empire at large and to all Catholics inhabiting the empire in particular. At the same time, the failure of Otto von Bismarck in his attempts to oppress Catholics reveals the fact that it is impossible to unify the country, at least on the religious level through establishment of one religion over another, if unjust and repressive means are used.

Otto von Bismarck influence on German history
At the beginning it is necessary to dwell upon the historical role of Otto von Bismarck for Germany because he is really a very important personality in German history. In fact it is difficult to underestimate his historical role. Moreover, it is even possible to estimate that it is Otto von Bismarck who actually created the basis of the further achievements of Germany in the 20th century and probably even created conditions for its leading role in the contemporary world.
Taking into consideration, his significance for German history, it is now necessary to discuss his main achievements that will help understand what he actually did. At this respect, it is worth to remind that at his epoch Otto von Bismarck was one of the prominent leaders of German empire contributing significantly to the formation of this state and strengthening its position in the world. Basically, he managed to influence German policy of that time and consequently German history at large due to his successful political career, which brought him on the peak of German political Olympus, when he was called a prime minister.
Actually he took office in 1862 and from the beginning he faced very serious problems which solutions were historically important for the future of German states. Naturally, one of the main tasks of his government was to strengthen the political situation in the country and in the international arena and unite German empire. At this respect, it is worth to note that his role in the country was very important at that epoch because he could be even treated as more important person the official ruler of the country. Such a position of Otto von Bismarck may be explained by the fact that it was him who took decisions in the country and it was he who developed strategic plans of German expansion, defined foreign and domestic policy of the country. This is why it is even possible to estimate that this person defined the historical development of the country at that period of time and, taking into consideration the active international policy of German empire and Prussia, as its predecessor, it is possible to estimate that Otto von Bismarck defined the historical development of the whole continent.
On the first stage, Otto von Bismarck achieved these goals through extreme militarization of the country. He started with rearement of Prussian army that constituted a core of German army and than in the result of a series of victorious wars he made German empire one of the most influential players in European international politics.
However, the real unification of the country has become probable only after Prussian army won the war on France that really united all people inhabiting territories that formed German empire. German people were ideologically prepared to the war on France as the ‘just’ war since they were absolutely convinced that they struggled for the protection of their country from the French aggression. In such a situation Otto von Bismarck’s policy of militarization of the country resulted in supremacy of Prussian army over its French counterpart. Not surprisingly that in 1871 the Treaty of Frankfurt ended the war, 1871 the King of Prussia Wilhelm I was crowned as the emperor of the German Empire in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, and Otto von Otto von Bismarck became the chancellor of the unified Germany . So, Germany could finally be united and there remained no actual threat from any European country and Otto von Bismarck eventually had got some time to build up German empire focusing on domestic affairs.
Obviously, despite the fact that the international threat was minimized, his main goal remained to “make progress on the German question through a Prussian policy of strength and thereby to reconcile the Prussian liberals to the uncompromising stand of the King on the question of military control” .
Thus, Otto von Bismarck partially accomplished his main goal o unify Germany and remain his trace in German history but actually, it was only a part of the whole job since to create the empire eventually turned to be easier than provide its sustained development and keep the entire state united and solid in political, economic and socio-cultural domains. Moreover, very quickly Otto von Bismarck realized that, while he used to be focused on international situation and position of Prussia and later German empire, the bunch of domestic problems threatened seriously to the safety and stability of his ‘creation’ since internal contradictions and lack of ideological unity in the society threatened to undermine the empire from within and one of such potential threats the prime minister saw in the growing power of the Catholic Church and the Pope as well as in the spread of Catholicism that was traditionally in conflict with Protestantism widely spread in Prussia and Northern regions of the empire.
As a result, Otto von Bismarck faced a dilemma: his international opponents, i.e. the opponents of German empire were defeated, but still alive and kicking, and, consequently, ready to tore the newly formed empire up, while there was still the lack of common ideology and real cultural and religious unification within the country. In such a situation Catholicism had become one of the main obstacles on the way of German empire to internal unification, or at least, this was the way Otto von Bismarck’s thought in.

Otto von Bismarck domestic policy and Catholics
a. Otto von Bismarck’s Kulturkampf as a policy oppressing Catholics and its causes
Obviously, it is just a general assumption that Catholicism was an obstacle to unification of Germany and naturally it needs to be precised. In other words, it is primarily necessary to find out why Otto von Otto von Bismarck believed that the Roman Catholic Church might interfere in his plans to unify Germany and what were the causes of Otto von Bismarck’s policy of oppression of Catholic Church and its adepts. Though this goal should not be perceived as a plan of a Otto von Bismarck which is based only on his free will. Obviously he was basically ruled by certain reflections as for the perspectives and the future development of the situation in Germany and in Europe as well. To put it more precisely, he basically considered the threat from the part of Catholics living in German empire.
First of all, it should be said that the official start of Otto von Bismarck’s policy aiming at the deprivation of the Roman Catholic Church in German empire dates back to the early 1870s when the Kulturkampf has been started. In fact the main cause of the oppression of Catholicism and Catholic basically results from the strategic goal of Otto von Bismarck to unify Germany. In order to better understand the danger of Catholicism for the future German empire what Otto von Bismarck believed in, it is necessary to briefly return to the history.
Furthermore, it should be said that German empire, being the descendant of the former North German Confederation, needed to be ideologically united. At the same time, it was difficult to unite the people whose religious views are to a certain extent different. To put it more precisely, the country was practically divided into two main parts. On the one hand there was Northern territories, basically constituted by Prussia, where Protestantism was widely spread. On the other hand, there was the rest of German empire, including very important territories, where Catholicism was the predominant religious trend.
At this respect, it is noteworthy that among Catholic regions of German empire, Southern regions, notably Bavaria, were particularly important. It is obvious that these regions created the economic basis of the future empire and its socio-economic and military power. Moreover, ideologically, Bavaria could be closer to Catholic Austria and, consequently, the remained a threat that Catholics of southern German territories would prefer to unite with Austrian who had similar religious views than with Prussian and northern Germans who were mainly protestants. Such a situation would be really disastrous for the unification of German empire.
However, it should be pointed out that such presumptions are basically hypothetical and the actual situation was quite calm since German empire was in a relatively stable international position because its main opponents were successfully defeated, especially it concerns France and Austria. This is why when the anti-Catholic policy was started there were no objective threats to German empire and its unity, at least from the part of the neighboring countries.
As for the internal situation, it should be said that there was also quite a stable development of socio-cultural, political, and economic relations. Moreover, the situation in the country may be even called stable and the population of German empire was relatively united and solid in the result of the numerous wars held by German empire that was quite natural because during these wars Germans had felt to be a really united nation that protected common interests and fought for one country.
However, there were still some reasons that could really undermine the stable situation in the country and one of the basic reasons was the fact that there were also territories where Poles lived that were situated on the East of German empire. In fact, the spread of Catholicism in Polish territories was particularly dangerous because the religious differences in views of the local population could contribute significantly to the development of national movements. In other words, it could provoke anti-German movements in Polish territories that were included in German empire. Consequently, there remained a potential threat of the rebellion and separation of eastern territories of the empire that would undoubtedly supported by Russian empire that would support any movement that weakened one of its main opponents on the international arena.
Nonetheless, it should be pointed out that the situation in eastern borders of empire objectively was also relatively calm, or at least, it could not be treated as revolutionary because there was no strong or significant national movement and Poles led a normal life. Moreover, they did not simply had sufficient resources to organize any significant resistance to German empire. Overall, they simply did not have any real alternative but to be a part of empire since if they freed from German empire, in all probability they would be conquered by Russian empire.
Finally, there were the Rhineland and Alsace-Lorraine in the west where the population was also predominantly Catholic. And again the possible contradictions between protestants and Catholics in western parts of German empire could be exploited by France in its own interests. Moreover, the western territories of western Germany always were the subjects of conflicts between German and French states. It means that potentially France could interfere in German domestic affairs on the pretext of protection of the Catholic population of the western region.
Thus, it is obvious that in the result of religious contradictions German empire could be divided into four main parts: northern region, the core of which constituted Prussia, Southern region, including Bavaria, eastern territories, inhabited by Poles, and western regions neighboring on France. The situation could be deteriorated by possible foreign assistance of Russia, Austria and France respectively which could destroy German empire and return it to the borders of Prussia . Naturally, Otto von Bismarck could not admit it and this is why he considered that oppression of the Catholic Church should be an essential part of German domestic policy.
However, it was not the only reason forcing Otto von Bismarck to start anti-Catholic policy. Another important factor that influenced his decision was the increasing power and role of the Pope and Vatican in the life of the Catholic Church in Germany. On commenting, the influence of the Pope on Catholics in Germany, Otto von Bismarck remarked that “their center of gravity lies outside Germany” . Naturally, it should be interpreted as not only an indirect indication at Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church but also on other European civic states that remained the main opponents of German empire on the international arena, including France, Austria, and Russian empire.
At the same time, it should be pointed out that, unlike the possible political influence of neighboring countries, France, Austria, and Russia, the influence of Vatican was basically ideological. To put it more precisely, the influence of the Roman Catholic Church spread not only on the religious sphere but also influenced significantly education since there were numerous church schools. Though, naturally, it is also naturally to take into consideration that the adepts of the Roman Catholic Church had also different cultural norms and values than Protestants.
Moreover, the Roman Catholic Church, notably Vatican, aggravated the situation by using a dogma of Papal infallibility that undermined the internal German basic values since it decreased the role of German empire compared to the Pope, because, according to the dominant ideology promoted by German officials, including Otto von Bismarck German emperor should be treated as the most respected and infallible human being in the whole world. In such a way, the basis of the ideology of German empire could be and actually was undermined by Vatican, though it should be pointed out that the dogma of Papal infallibility was rather a response of the Roman Catholic church on oppression of Catholics in German empire than a deliberate provocation.
As a result, on winning numerous wars and defeating its opponents abroad, German empire still could be influenced and separated from within and Otto von Bismarck believed that such a perspective was so real that he couldn’t find any other way out but to start Kulturkampf, one of the main goals of which was the elimination of the influence of the Roman Catholic Church and unification of all people inhabiting the empire under Protestantism.

The essence of Kulturkampf
Strongly believing in the danger that religious division of the empire represented, Otto von Bismarck decided to solve the problem in an authoritarian way. To put it more precisely, he decided to start anti-Catholic campaign that was known as Kulturkampf. Obviously, one of the main goals of Kulturkampf was to repress the Catholic Church and Catholics in order to establish the dominance of Protestantism that was predominant in Prussian and northern territories of German empire. In such a way, Otto von Bismarck believed that “by repressing a minority within Germany, Otto von Bismarck also hoped he would be able to cement the Protestant majority within Germany” .
Naturally, to achieve the main goal and make the policy of repression of Catholics effective, Otto von Bismarck had to use an effective strategy that would make his plans realizable. It should be pointed out that in the process of Kulturkampf Otto von Bismarck paid a particular attention to the strategy which would permit to “bolster the power of the secular state and reduce the political and societal influence of the Catholic Church by instituting political control over Church activities” . In fact, what the German government headed by Otto von Otto von Bismarck aimed at was the replacement of the Roman Catholic Church by the state and execution of traditional church functions by the government or civil people.
In order to fulfill the strategic plan, Otto von Bismarck and his government should deprive the Catholic church of some of its right and limit its role in the socio-cultural life of people German inhabiting German empire. As a result, a number of anti-clerical laws were passed and they limited significantly the Roman Catholic Church and ordinary Catholics on German empire. Certainly, it should be pointed out that the changes in the legislation basically targeted at the limitation of rights of the Catholic Church and its leaders and their possibilities to influence the life of people and interfere in the domestic policy of the German government, but willingly or not, the anti-catholic measures affected directly practically all Catholics living in the empire.
Also, it is worth to note that the restrictions implemented by the government in relation to the Catholic Church affected different spheres of the church’s influence on its adepts in German empire. First of all, among the most severe restrictions, may be named the restrictions that referred to the possibility to provide traditional worship for the adepts of the Roman Catholic Church.
Moreover, Jesuits, priests and nuns were largely expelled all over the country. But what was probably more important was the fact that they were deprived of possibility to lead a normal life they used to before. One of the main reasons why the position of priests, nuns and Jesuits deteriorated dramatically was the implementation in 1871 of the Kanzelparagraph in the German Criminal Code, according to which there was a threat to clergy who discussed politics from the pulpit to be arrested and imprisoned for two years. Obviously, this measure restricted dramatically political freedom of clergymen and their right to express their opinion publicly and in fact this paragraph limited the possibility of the Roman Catholic Church at large and its representatives to freely express their views and ideas from pulpit that made the latter practically useless in the communication of the church and clergymen with the adepts.
In such a situation, not only the rights of the Catholic Church were restricted but also the rights of ordinary Catholics were restricted as well because they had got less opportunities to receive the clear messages of their church and their priests since such a legislation made it possible to arrest priests at any slightest pretext because their words could be interpreted in different ways and it was not difficult to find some political sense in what was said from the pulpit.
As a result of such measures many priests, nuns and Jesuits were expelled, arrested, or even exiled and were “no longer allowed to practice religion or to perform religious services” . Naturally, it was a great pressure that clergymen could not afford.
Naturally, it would be logical to presuppose that the Roman Catholic Church could react somehow on such actions of the German government and it actually did. As it has been already mentioned, Vatican issued a dogma about Papal infallibility. However, such a response of the Roman Catholic Church was obviously insufficient. Moreover, the reaction of the government headed by Otto von Bismarck was practically immediate and the diplomatic relations between German empire and Vatican were practically ruined. In fact, the reaction of Vatican was quite predictable and at the same time, it was obvious that its effectiveness would be quite doubtful, especially, in the situation when the life of German empire was controlled by the authoritarian state, which had nothing in common with really democratic country. However, it is still necessary to admit that democracy has started to develop in German empire but at that epoch it was too weak to compete with the monarchy and the power of Bismarck’s government.
In such a way, both the Roman Catholic Church and its representatives turned to be directly repressed by Otto von Bismarck’s government. Nonetheless, the measures mentioned above were basic but there were a number of other measures limiting the rights and restriction the position of the Roman Catholic Church in German empire. Also, it is noteworthy to say a few words about education. It should be said that church schools were typical for Germany and were quite widely spread but German government in its anti-Catholic struggle established its control over such schools. It means that church schools were controlled by the government. This control was realized through regular official government inspections and since 1872, each church school had to undergone such kind of inspections .
Furthermore, the same year, religious teachers were banned out of government schools and this was an obvious attempt to make the education civic instead of religious education many Catholics living in German empire used to in the past. As a result, the Roman Catholic Church had lost probably its strongest position in education and since that time on it had not got real possibilities to influence the education. Moreover, the state began to closely monitor the education of clergy.
It is also very important to underline that the government also created a secular court for cases involving clergy. It means that the state paid so much attention to this anti-Catholic campaign that it decided to single out special courts for clergy cases. Another step in the establishing control over the Roman Catholic Church and its representatives in German empire was the establishment of the state control over the appointment of priests and the state required notification of all clergy employment.
Basically, the restrictions mentioned above, seem to concern the Catholic church and clergy only but the state measures in terms of Otto von Bismarck’s Kulturkampf involved ordinary Catholics as well. For instance, such an important ceremony as marriage “became a mandatory civil ceremony” that was removed from the control of the church.
Thus, it is obvious that Otto von Bismarck’s anti-Catholic policy aimed at the minimization of the role of the Catholic Church in German empire and its replacement by state which had started either to fulfill the functions, which used to be typical for the church, or thoroughly control them.
The consequences of Otto von Bismarck’s policy in relation to Catholics
Naturally, the domestic policy of Otto von Bismarck aiming at the repressions against the Roman Catholic Church and Catholics couldn’t fail to produce dramatic effects on German society and the socio-cultural situation in the country. However, the general effect of this policy turned to be absolutely contrary to what Otto von Bismarck had initially expected.
First of all, it should be said the main goal of Otto von Bismarck to weaken the positions of Catholics in German society and what was probably not less important in German Reichstag. It is obvious that he planned that the reduction of the role of the Catholic Church and establishing the dominance of Protestantism would result in greater support of the prime minister in the society and his stronger positions in the Reichstag through parliamentary support of protestant majority. However, these were rather short term or personalized consequences, while in longer term perspective it would lead to the stability within German society since, as Otto von Bismarck planned there would be only one dominant religion, Protestantism.
In stark contrast to his plans, the reality turned to be absolutely different and his Kulturkampf completely failed. It means that instead of the unification of the society on the basis of Protestantism, the actions undertaken by German government led to the unification of Catholics living in German empire and they became a solid and real power, and it was exactly what Otto von Bismarck was afraid the most. The main result of the anti-Catholic campaign was the consolidation of all Catholics and this was not simply a civil consolidation of groups of citizens but the opposition to the domestic policy of the government gradually was shaped into a political party, called the Catholic Center Party. The main part of its electorate constituted Catholics, which felt being deprived and attempted to protect their rights and beliefs on all levels. In such a situation, the Catholic Center Party could be a real alternative that could either limit the domestic policy of Otto von Bismarck in relation to Catholics or even change its direction completely.
Soon the extent, to which German society disagreed with the domestic policy of the official government, became clear. It occurred when in 1874 the Catholic Center Party doubled its representation in the Parliament that meant a significant support of this force among the population of German empire.
Logically, Otto von Bismarck couldn’t fail to ignore such a position of a great part of the population of the empire and he had to cooperate with the Catholic Center Party and take into consideration its position. Gradually, Otto von Bismarck started to soften his policy in relation to Catholics to the extent that eventually he attempted to justify Kulturkampf and restrictions, concerning the Catholic Church and its representatives, by the national interests of the empire, according to which such policy was essential because of the presence of Poles in German empire.
By the way, it is worth to mention that Poles probably suffered the most from Kulturkampf and the official policy targeting at deprivation of Catholics because for these people along with religious repression there was a powerful national pressure . In fact for Poles living in German empire, Kulturkampf resulted in Germinization since it was a part of Otto von Bismarck’s policy aiming at the unification of the country and all people that lived on its territory. As a result they faced not only the perspective to sustain their religion but their culture at large was under a threat.
Naturally, the success of the Catholic Center Party significantly improved the situation for Catholics in German empire and the shift in the attitude of Otto von Bismarck and his policy to Catholics was obvious. One of the symbols of such a shift was the improvement of relations of German empire with Vatican, especially after the election of the new Pope, Leo XIII, in 1878 .
However, these were basically the consequences, which indicated at the failure of the anti-Catholic domestic policy, but also there were a lot of other negative effects, which eventually led to this failure. Speaking about these effects of Kulturkampf, firstly it should be said that Otto von Bismarck’s policy led to the division of the country on different parts because of difference in religious views or because of ethnic differences. As for the latter, it has been already mentioned that they suffered from Germanization but it should be emphasized that they were negatively perceived by the rest of the German empire because they were different and the state intentionally and forcefully attempted to eliminate this difference. As a result, Poles would not accept willingly German culture, including Protestantism, and refused pointblank to accept such policy, while German, even Catholics, would not accept them as a part of the united empire since the policy of Germanization, being a part of Kulturkampf, only underlined their differences from traditional German culture .
At the same time, there was even more profound split that threatened to the normal existence of German empire, notably the split between North and South, which were contrasting to one another and the anti-Catholic policy in such a context would be perceived only as a violation of rights of Germans living in southern regions. In other words, it was perceived as an attempt of Protestants to establish control over Catholics in all spheres of life and deprive the latter of possibility to satisfy their spiritual needs as they traditionally used to do.
In such a situation, significant changes in the life of ordinary Catholics that had to practically change their lifestyle seem to be just a kind of inconvenience, though, on the personal level, Kulturkampf also engendered a number of problems. For instance, it was really hardly acceptable for Catholics for whom marriage traditionally was a church ceremony and they could not morally and spiritually refuse from it in favor of civil ceremony simply because it was the political decision of the government.
Also, it was also quite difficult for Catholics living in German empire to refuse from the church education because of the same reasons. As a result the basic rights of Catholics were violated and this is exactly what made them so unanimous in their desire to protect their rights through voting for the political party, the Catholic Center Party, which defended their positions.
In such a way, Otto von Bismarck failed to transform the religious landscape of German empire and eventually had to soften his policy.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that Otto von Bismark was an outstanding prime minister who became one of the most significant figures in German history. He gained this status because he managed to accomplish a very difficult task, i.e. he managed to unite German empire and create a solid and relatively stable state. However, it is obvious that his strategic goals were particularly successfully achieved in the foreign affairs, for he defeated practically all main opponents of German states and forced international community to recognize German empire, while in domestic affairs he turned to be less successful.
It is particularly obvious in his policy in relation to Catholic, known as Kulturkampf, which aimed at the unification of the country through the domination of Protestantism in all parts of the empire and minimization of the role of the Roman Catholic Church. The basic reason of this failure lies in the methods Bismark had chosen to achieve this goal because they were authoritarian and could not be accepted by the society. In fact the refuse of Catholics to accept Kulturkampf is quite natural because people traditionally do not accept any policy that aims at the limitation of their rights or if repressive methods are used.
At the same time, the anti-Catholic policy of Otto von Bismarck reveals the role of this individual in German and European history and his power since it is obvious that it was his personal decision to start Kulturkampf, which was not objectively motivated. Naturally, his concerns about the potential danger of division of empire were, to a certain extent, reasonable but, in actuality, the situation within the country was quite stable and there were no serious conflicts between Catholic and Protestant communities, at least until Kulturkampf, and the external opponents of German empire were successfully defeated and, consequently, neutralized, at least for some time.
This is why it is possible to conclude that authoritarian will of Otto von Bismarck was naturally rejected by German society and his anti-Catholic policy totally failed that, nonetheless, didn’t make him less important in German history.

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