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From Barbarism to Religion: Church History and the Enlightened Narrative in Germany
German History (2005)
  • Michael Printy, Yale University

The subject of this essay is the historical vision of the German Catholic Enlightenment as seen in the work of Michael Ignaz Schmidt, a Catholic priest and author of the eleven-volume History of the Germans (1778–1793). A proper acknowledgement of Schmidt's career helps us revise the standard account of German historicism and historical practice in the eighteenth century, and also sheds light on the place of religion in the German Enlightenment. Schmidt wrote a thoroughly modern ‘history of manners’ that was indebted both to Voltaire and to Robertson. Yet his work passed into obscurity largely because he focused on the Holy Roman Empire and the Imperial Church—the two great casualties of the Napoleonic passage. Schmidt's view of the Reformation, and, more importantly, of the history of the pre-Reformation German national Church, stands out in the prominence it assigns the Church as part of the history of the development of German manners. Schmidt's account throws into question the common view in the history of the German ‘nation’ that Germany could not be accorded the normal attributes of a state and existed only as a ‘cultural nation’. The essay addresses the German problem of bi-confessionalism, and Schmidt's awareness of developments in Protestant theology in the eighteenth century. While this paper does not try to deal comprehensively with all these issues, the essay shows how the agenda of reformist religion, national history, and the Enlightened vision of Europe's Christian past coalesced in this unjustly forgotten work.

  • German History,
  • Enlightenment,
  • Enlightened Narrative,
  • Michael Ignaz Schmidt
Publication Date
Citation Information
Michael Printy. "From Barbarism to Religion: Church History and the Enlightened Narrative in Germany" German History Vol. 23 Iss. 2 (2005)
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