In two short paragraphs of pages 140 and 141, we have one of the best analyses of the Reformation ever made in a sociological frame.
Medieval Europe was civilized by the Church. The State was essentially the cultural tradition of a Christian people. The unity of peoples within Christendom was torn apart by the movement which we call the Renaissance.
In Southern Europe the Renaissance was a movement which sought the recovery of the culture that had been before the Middle Ages. In doing so it found a newly Christianised, Classical past, which led it to re-embrace its Catholic inheritance.
In Northern Europe this same movement led it back to its culturally barbaric roots, and so it sought a new form of expression. What took place was a quest for independence by a re-moulding of Christianity. The Renaissance in Northern Europe was the Reformation. To the north it was Lutheran and to the south it was Calvinist (which appealed to the Latin mind), and in the middle, England was Calvinist with a Catholic minority, and France was Catholic with a Calvinist minority (including the Calvin-influenced Catholics, the Jansenists.) In England the Church is Protestant, but Anglican. In France it is Catholic, but Gallican.
The Reformation, which was originally a religious and theological movement, is propelled by social forces. People sought independence from any influence that was felt to be repressive or foreign. Nietzsche called the Reformation “a spiritual, Peasant revolt” – the elimination of everything that was intellectual, complicated, Catholic.
However, the Reformation did not follow the Oriental path of centuries before, where people had turned away from human experience to contemplate the Divine. Rather, it led to an accentuation of what had taken place in the West centuries before, where faith became a dynamic force. Now, in Protestantism, faith was no longer seen as one’s participation in the Divine life, but was seen as a purely non-rational experience, the conviction of personal salvation.
For Catholics, God was the principle of the intelligibility of the created Universe. For Protestants, God was a despotic power who saved or damned men by mere arbitrary will. This understanding did not lead to an attitude or fatalism or apathy, but rather to a sense of practical moral duty. Having abolished spiritual ‘works’, Protestantism invented a new code of activism.
In the Catholic south there was also a movement from the cloister to the world. The active, or apostolic life of lay people came into focus.