(C6) Political Office and Religious Dissimulation: Confessional Ambiguity at German Princely Courts in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

The Holy Roman Empire during the early modern period was a virtual laboratory of religious and political plurality. Previous historical research has primarily described the process of the reciprocal external delimitation and inner homogenisation of the confessional churches that went along with territorial state building. In contrast, most recently it is generally the resistance to, and the fractures and limits of confessionalisation that are emphasised, situations of “osmosis” within and between religions (von Greyerz, Kaufmann et al.) that are highlighted. In the meantime the homogenous religion seems increasingly like a construct; confessionalism is described as – frequently quite vacillating and unstable – cultural practice.

The project will focus on the learned personnel at the European princely courts, who – due to changes in the politics of princely confession (the conversion of the dynasty, intensified re-Catholicisation) – were faced with the decision of adapting or relinquishing their careers. This situation raised the fundamental question for them, of whether external conformity in the practice of a faith could be reconciled with inner adherence to one’s true religious convictions, in other words, how far confessional dissimulatio was allowed to go in the case of inner reservatio mentalis. This debate was not least carried out on the basis of Biblical examples – Nicodemus in the New Testament, Esther in the Old, etc. – and reflected in many ways literarily. In essence it concerned the fundamental questions of the relationship between outer practice and inner faith, cult and dogma, visible and invisible church, body and soul. Opposing poles marked on the one hand the irenic, pre-confessional, spiritualistic position of Erasmus, who held all physical reality as being worthy of neglect, and on the other hand the strict confessionalism of Calvin, who demanded conformity between physical and spiritual religious conduct. On the basis of selected territories (Upper and Lower Austria, the Habsburg Netherlands) these scholarly discourses will be investigated in their concrete confessional and political context, and the question of their consequences for the history of piety will be raised.