October 24th, 1648, marks the official end of the Thirty Years War, which had begun in 1618, and was one of the bloodiest and most brutal conflicts of modern times, until the world wars of last century. The conflict was officially Catholic states against the ‘Protestant’ ones, but was really princes against princes, with France siding with heretics to ensure the Hapsburgs did not take more than their share of Europe. Those imbued with Luther’s revolutionary principles seized the lands, riches and, most of all, the privileges of the Church, and were in no hurry to let them go. In Protestantism, of whatever sort, the State eventually absorbs the Church, as in, say, Anglicanism where the king becomes ‘head of the Church’, and bishops become subservient and pliant. We need not look for to see how this theological virus has infected the one, true Church.
The Peace of Westphalia, signed on this day, gave princes the right to choose the religion of their domains: Cuius regio, eius religio. ‘To whom the region, to him the religion’.
This, of course, is not Catholicism, which requires that states, as well as individuals, recognize the ‘one, true Church’, and conform their lives, laws and mores to her divinely-inspired teachings. As Saint Peter said to Christ, ‘where else do we go?’. To adopt any other foundation for society results in dissolution and ultimate disaster, as we are witnessing all around us. As even the more muted Decree on Religious Freedom from the Second Vatican Council declares, warning against state coercion in matters religious, that it leaves untouched (integram) traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.
Westphalia was rejected by the then-Pope, Innocent X, in no uncertain terms, condemning the agreement a month later in his Zelus Domus Dei of November 26, 1648, void, invalid, iniquitous, unjust, damnable, reprobate, inane, empty of meaning and effect for all time.
No mincing of words with good old Innocent, who saw that to leave religion at the whim of whoever happened to be ruling in the moment was a short route to chaos. For, as Pope John Paul II was later to say, a culture is most shaped by how the people in that culture, not least those imbued with authority, view God, His laws, and how those laws are to be promulgated in law and custom. Only the divinely revealed religion gives us a true ‘view of God’, and only with that revelation can states be governed well.
The shadow of Westphalia falls over history, and our own era, which desperately needs the light that Christ offers. To Him is belongs dominion not only over all the earth, but over the hearts of kings, queens, princes, ministers and every human being. To Him be all praise, glory and thanksgiving. +