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20 Hegel’s Ghost: Europe, the Reformation, and the Middle Ages

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Chapter Summary

According to an old historical tradition the Reformation marked a fundamental break from the Middle Ages. The tradition has a point, because the Reformation really did bring major change. The work of Reformation historians retains a residual identification with nations and confessions that conflicts sharply with the perspective adopted in this chapter. The confessionalization paradigm amounts to a contemporary version of Hegel's vision of the modern state, minus Hegel's fondness for the sincerity of the German people and his distaste for Catholic corruption, plus the gloomy descent of Weber's inner-worldly asceticism and Oestreich's social discipline on ordinary folk in lieu of Hegel's happy rise of liberty. The self-understanding of the protagonists in the early modern transformation of European society is obviously crucial for the history of the Reformation. In Catholic self-understanding the Catholic Church did the opposite of what the Protestants were doing: it maintained an immutable tradition.

Keywords: Catholic Church; European society; Hegel's vision; Protestants; Reformation historiography; Renaissance



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