I think Luther must have chuckled as General Clarke's U.S. Army surged up the Italian peninsula and liberated Rome in June of 1944. It would have amazed and probably perplexed the reformers no end to see that the spiritual descendants of Luther would be liberating the Pope from their brethren. Yet the images that emerge from that time ways encapsulate some of the key features of modernity and help us understand its trajectory.
When Max Weber published his book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber was formally stating what was apparent to anyone with eyes to see. By the end of the 19th Century, when modernity was already in full swing and despite starting from behind economically, the Protestant world had surged ahead of the Catholic, both economically and technically, producing the worlds most "modern" societies. These societies weren't just wealthier, but were qualitatively different in that they had broken with the agrarian past and had become industrial. But even the term industrial doesn't really convey the depth of their transformation. The "wealth" of these nations was in many ways byproduct of a broad and deep cultural infrastructure which advanced science and the arts, commercialised their application and spread their benefits far and wide.
Weber attributed a lot of the success of Protestantism to the unintended economic effects of Calvinism--and scholars have debated him about the assertion--but what whatever the cause there was a clear quantitative and qualitative difference in wealth between the Catholic and Protestant worlds. It's all the more surprising given the fact that the foundations of modernity were put in place by Catholicism in Renaissance Northern Italy.
This interesting paper gives an idea of the degree of economic divergence between the Catholic and Protestant worlds.
But what this data does not convey is how of the "wealth effect" in Catholic countries is due to the transfer of knowledge from Protestant countries. Take, for example, the inventions of the steam engine, locomotive and telegraph. These inventions have probably been the most transformative elements in the transition to modernity. All were originated, proved and made commercially successful in a Protestant milieu and then copied around the world. The copiers avoiding the research, development and risks costs in bringing an idea to fruition. They are essentially "free riders" with regard to Protestant product development and while it would be impossible to objectively quantify, my intuitive guess is that Catholic economic development would be far less developed if it weren't for this. This is not to say that the Catholic world did not provide important contributions to modernity it's just that it did it so as a junior partner. Material modernity is primarily a product of Protestantism.
Which raises an interesting question: would modernity have developed if Protestantism had been quashed by the Counter-Reformation. This, of course, is a speculative line of thought but in my opinion a theologically 'rigid" Catholicism would have made material modernity difficult while a "slack" poorly disciplined Catholicism would of been open to its development, albeit at a slower pace. Catholicism laid down the foundations of modernity but was unable to build on this due to its internal tensions. (More on that in another post.) Indeed, what would see to support this view is the data in the first table above. While there are other factors involved, Catholic and Protestant Per Capita-GDP's start to converge about the 1960's, the time when Catholic religious practice began to collapse.
The other thing to remember here is that while intellectual modernity was making inroads the "Negative World" , a West which was hostile to Christianity, was not really a feature of modern society until relatively recently. For much of modernity, religious faith and technological progress were not an issue for the majority of the population. Indeed, what I think best symbolises peak Protestant modernity is the Apollo 8 reading of Genesis. Mainstream Western culture, except a few atheists, saw anything wrong with public expressions of faith while orbiting the moon: There was no intellectual incompatibility between belief in the Almighty and the cultural, economic and industrial powerhouse that bought the Apollo program to fruition. They were one and the same.
The fact of the matter matter is that the Reformation did not only change the religious landscape of the Western world but initiated what would eventually become a profound economic, material and cultural divergence, and which would result in the Catholic world becoming largely irrelevant in the shaping of modernity. (France is a complex divergence which I won't go into at the moment.)
And this is best exemplified by the events of the Second World War, where the Catholic countries of Europe were subjugated or neutral to the events (due to powerlessness or fear) and South America was indifferent. It was left to the Protestant powers (who had the means and the will) to liberate the seat of Catholicism and shape the course of events. In essence its fate was was determined by other powers.
Weber felt that Protestantism was inadvertently able to direct religious impulses toward economic activity, but I felt that it's effect was much more encompassing. Protestantism turned Christianity towards the mundane things in life thereby transforming them and it modulated modernity into a form which was compatible with it. The wealth was "by-product". But that is not to say that the Protestant modernity was without fault. Particularly in the field of economics, great wealth rubbed shoulders with extreme poverty and exploitation of the working class. In many ways it was the midwife of Socialism. But overall it forged a world which was honest, efficient and wealthy.
This is why the collapse of "spound" Protestantism is THE tragedy of the 20th Century, primarily because modernity has become "uncoupled" from what would be considered "traditional" Christianity. We are now entering a post-Protestant modernity which is repudiating the the modulating influences of the past and the "Globohomo" world that we now inhabit is primarily as a result of the collapse of "sound" Protestantism, particularly of its managerial class, which now practices a form of Protestantism--if it practices it at all--which would have horrified the Reformers.
Catholicism is dead and gay. The Pope will be marrying gays in the Vatican within the decade.
An interesting comparison would also be crime rates between Catholic and Protestant Europe over the same period, although I imagine this would be challenging and may be confounded by other factors (the waxing and waning of apostasy and revival in both worlds).
The accusation I anticipate from Catholics would be that Protestant Europe was developed materially, but destitute spiritually. Crime rates, admittedly an imperfect indicator, might help reveal if that was the case. I have a gut feeling they won’t like the answer.
I am often frustrated with how little Catholics who engage with Protestants understand Protestantism. Erik von Kuehnelt Leddihn and others of course are great exceptions, as you seem to be.
The idea is that doctrines like perseverance of the saints, or “easy grace” lead to lax morality, this has an excellent logic to it (if sin doesn’t send you to hell, why wouldn’t you do it?), however it isn’t what appears to have happened, at all. Are Welsh Methodists famous for their immorality? Are wee free Kirk Scots Presbyterians for that matter? What keeps you from winning your heart out? It’s a good question, I think.
In the very beginning of Pascals pensees he contrasts the “mathematical” and “intuitive” ways of thinking, and the shortcomings of each. The “mathematical” mind has problems when inputs are left out of the equation, or if initial inputs (which must come from the intuitive sense) are wrong. Catholic criticism of Protestants often has ruthless logic that ignores or fundamentally misunderstands its subject, like the connection between Protestantism and moral degradation I just mentioned.
Protestantisms strength comes from an emphasis on primary sources (the Bible), as well as a robust understanding of personal responsibility and relationship with God. Ironically, from a Catholic perspective, neither of these things should be anti Catholic. However I fear the reaction against the Protestant world has driven some Catholics into un Catholic modes of thinking. In fairness Protestants are not immune from this going the other way.
An interesting comparison would also be crime rates between Catholic and Protestant Europe over the same period
I think those figures would be very difficult to find. Though contemporary ratings of corruption consistently rank Catholic countries as more corrupt than Protestant ones. As for spiritual wealth, how spiritually wealthy are you if you are more corrupt?
Protestantism does have its problems, in my view, but it also has its strengths and I think that these need to be acknowledged, particularly the spiritual agency that is accorded to its believers. In my view Charles Peguy understood the problem that beset Catholicism, i.e. it reversed the operation of the incarnation. (I'll write more about this later.) As I currently see things, I see the Reformation as a correction to the day to day corruption of the pre-reformation Church, AND as a corrective to the turn to monastic mysticism in the Counter Reformation. I actually think that the Counter Reformation may have actually hampered the Church's ability to shape modernity. The issue here is not so much the theological differences between Protestantism and Catholicsm but the practical differences between the two. Protestantism preached a "worldly" Christianity, a Christianity that "engaged" the world, Catholicism an "otherworldly version" which sought to escape it.
Ironically, from a Catholic perspective, neither of these things should be anti Catholic.
I recommend Tom's Digest (https://tomsdigest.wordpress.com/) with regard to critiquing the Church post-Trent. He engages more on Twitter, but I understand most don't want to touch that cesspool.
In short, the Reformers had real critiques and concerns regarding the Roman Church and despite the fact that the Protestant offshoots have abuses and problems of their own, the original problems they (the Reformers) identified have only gotten worse and the hierarchy has doubled down.
I don't know about Tom, but for me I see a very logical progression between Trent -> Vatican I -> Vatican II, even calling Trent "V2 for Trads."
Getting back on topic - as much as Catholics are eager to point out the doctrinal deficiencies of Protestantism, their revealed preferences show that they prefer Protestant rule over self-rule.
The advantage Protestant nations had could be partially attributed to the basic fact that England had large coal deposits, and the coal/steam based industrial revolution started in England, giving England a big jump start on the process compared to other states. France and Belgium were only really starting the process in 1830, by which time that UK was already thoroughly industrial. The US also had a high standard of living partially based on its extremely favorable geography coupled with nationalist/protectionist economic policies that helped development. The US didn't suddenly start to de-industrialize once millions of Catholics from Ireland, Germany, Poland, and Italy started to immigrate. It wasn't just Catholic areas that lagged behind the UK and US but also Protestant Germany (Adam Tooze's book on the Nazi economy explains Germany had an economy similar to modern Iran or South Africa during the 1930s, it was a "peripheral" state like many of the others that went fascist or communist), Orthodox (the Communist) Russia, the Muslim world, East Asia, etc. And does Italy count as a "Catholic" country when until shortly before WWI only about 1% of the population could vote, and the Pope commanded Catholics not to participate in the political process?
Thanks for the recommendation, he looks interesting. I especially like the notion of Trent being V2 for Trads. I would personally tweak that notion a bit and say that Trent was V2 for the Christian Mystics.
I don't think that all of the Reformers critiques were justified--(a lot of them were)--and Trent was in many ways a belated and grudgingly forced recognition of the legitimacy of a lot of their complaints. Yes there was some doubling down, but was also some general legitimate reform though I'm increasing of the opinion that Trent was a suboptimal (not wrong) solution which required "balancing" by Protestantism.
My own "big picture" sociological view of things suggests that the vitality of post reformation Protestantism (which was sustained and powered by Grace) was a counterbalance to the mystical/monastical/ascetic tradition of Catholicism. Trent didn't just shore up Catholicism but further re-orientated it "away" from the carnal/created world. Protestantism engaged the "carnal" world in a Christian manner, thereby "Christianising it". Luther's emphasis on the concept of Christian vocation was instrumental in this regard.
Getting back on topic - as much as Catholics are eager to point out the doctrinal deficiencies of Protestantism, their revealed preferences show that they prefer Protestant rule over self-rule.
Agree. Being poor and arbitrarily governed sucks.
The advantage Protestant nations had could be partially attributed to the basic fact that England had large coal deposits, and the coal/steam based industrial revolution started in England
Starting an industrial revolution is no simple thing and resource proximity to resources is no guarantee of it. Russia (and Africa) has heaps of everything and is better situated from a market perspective than any other country in the world, yet they made a mess of it. Even having Coal is no consequence if you don't know how to utilise it.
France and Belgium were only really starting the process in 1830, by which time that UK was already thoroughly industrial
And yet France and Belgium were a day's trip away from the UK there should be no reason why those idea could not have been quickly applied there. France, in many ways, led the world technologically but could not efficiently translate those ideas to widespread implementation.
https://youtu.be/djB9oK6pkbA (A great series by the way)
Even China was incredibly innovative, it's just that ideas could not permeate through its society for a variety of reasons.
The US also had a high standard of living partially based on its extremely favorable geography coupled with nationalist/protectionist economic policies that helped development.
Good governance produces good results.
The US didn't suddenly start to de-industrialize once millions of Catholics from Ireland, Germany, Poland, and Italy started to immigrate.
I don't think you're thinking about this clearly. Migrants a country usually start on the bottom run of a society (with very little cultural or economic influence) and climb the ranks through both material prosperity and cultural assimilation. Second generation migrants have frequently adopted many of the habits and customs of the natives, so that a lot of the original "cultural capital" is lost. The Catholics that assimilated to the U.S. became "Protestantised" by cultural osmosis if not explicit belief especially if they wanted to "fit in". Hence the lack of deindustrialisation.
It wasn't just Catholic areas that lagged behind the UK and US but also Protestant Germany
There was economic variation across Protestant states.
And does Italy count as a "Catholic" country when until shortly before WWI only about 1% of the population could vote, and the Pope commanded Catholics not to participate in the political process?
Northern Italy laid the foundation of the modern world. David Landes (Jewish) and Ernst Troelstch (Protestant) were of this opinion. And you're confusing culture with democracy: two different things. The aristocracy that ran Italy before its unification was thoroughly Catholic, as were its people.
For your interest.
God specifically helped the English Reformation survive the Spanish Armada by freak storms that helped the English win. The reasons stated in this article may be why.
There are no remaining Protestant countries, and there are barely a few semi-Catholic and semi-Orthodox countries. This "strength" is completely illusory over the long term.
There are no remaining Protestant countries,
The collapse of Protestantism is the disaster of the 20th C.
If you see America as the completion of the Puritan experiment, where truly Loyalist sentiment either fled to Canada or returned to Britain by 1820, it helps to understand the situation. We are a nation of religious ferment (both good and bad) and have been since our founding. The desire to carry our culture forward is part of the Puritan DNA. Belief in Manifest Destiny stirred us to expand to the end of the continent, then carried forward into colonialism in the Caribbean islands, Phillippines, Hawaii, etc.
We believed it was our responsibility to deliver Europe from re-paganized Germany (WWII), and later from Communist Russia and China (Cold War). Those wars stemmed from Christian sentiment, crusades in a sense. Even though we are abandoning our traditional Protestant Christianity, the crusading desire remains (Iraq, Afghanistan). Hence we are spreading ideological poison to the world dressed as a secular gospel, proclaiming deliverance from oppression by way of liberalism.
1) Do you think the growth is due to competition more than the properties of either faction? The loss of the church as a unifying factor could explain, although there was plenty of political fighting even with a more unified church.
2) It's just Germany? :-)
Thank you for this blog, wonderful host.
Me again, one thing that might explain Protestant dominance (maybe Weber talks about this) is the Protestant democratization of education. If you try to teach everybody to read, you have a greater chance of uncovering diamonds in the rough.
"Me again, one thing that might explain Protestant dominance (maybe Weber talks about this) is the Protestant democratization of education. If you try to teach everybody to read, you have a greater chance of uncovering diamonds in the rough."
The greater emphasis on personal agency does that.
Do you think the growth is due to competition more than the properties of either faction?
I don't see the success as a result of intra-Protestant competition rather Protestantism's lack of centralised control led to developments of Christianity in different directions which would not have been possible under a unified Catholic command. Not all the various developments of Protestantism were good but a lot of them appear to be quite sound, at least to me.
The Protestant democratisation of education is a case in point. Teaching the plebs to read was taken seriously by Protestants. Their aim wasn't to provided an educated populace but rather a populace that could engage with the Bible meaningfully. The "economic" benefits were a secondary consequence, but what a consequence! It really does seem to me to be a case of strongly validating Matthew 6:33.
Yes, I think one of the distinguishing features of Protestantism is its greater emphasis on personal agency.
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