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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Germany

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I. Ancient Religion of. The information we now possess concerning the religion of the tribes of Germania Magna, such as the Alemans, Saxons, Franks, etc., is very incomplete and disconnected. The Greek and Latin authors mention the names of but a few deities, who seem to have been to some extent similar in their attributes to their own gods. The Christian writers also mention them only in so far as is necessary for their purpose, and their views are naturally colored with their own opinions. The Scandinavian mythology must originally have been very closely connected with that of Germany; but we can get no light from that quarter, as we do not know the early period of the former. It is clear that at an early period the Celtic element was infused in the Aleman and the Frank, while among the northern tribes, the Slavonic, Lithuanic, and Finnic myths were introduced; while a tendency towards the Greek worship is also perceptible. As for the divinities of the ancient Germans, Caesar states that they worshipped only such as visibly exerted a decided influence over events; he particularly mentions three: the Sun Vulcan, and the Moon. The domestic divinities were: Wuotan (Woden), the supreme god, and his wife Freia, the goddess of the household and of marriage; Zio, the god of war; Fro, who watched over the crops, and his wife Frouwa;, afterwards came Phol or Paltar (the Balder of the north), Fosite, and Thusnar (Donar), god of the clouds and storms. The progenitor of the human race was Tuisco, who combined the attributes of the Greek Uranos and Zeus, and whose son Mannus is identical with the subsequent Irmin, or the Greek Hercules.

Among the special divinities of, different tribes were Nerthus (commonly Hertha), goddess of fertility and the chase; the Alces, two brothers (a sort of Cester and Polliux); Costra, in Saxony, etc. Other goddesses appear to have been merely aliases of these: thus Hludana and Eisa were identical with Freia, etc. Among the inferior divinities (daemons) were the Riesen (giants), physically resemblings men, who were supposed to belong to a former period of creation, and dwelt in the mountains, where they erected gigantic fortifications, and defended themselves against intruders with stones and rocks. In direct contrast from these were the Zwerge (pigmies), who appeared among men on special occasions, sometimes to impart gifts and blessings to them, at other times to do them evil and frustrate their plans. There were also Berggeister (spirits of the mountains), called also Elbe or Elfen (elves); Waldgeister (spirits of the forests), especially the Wild Hunter, Schratz; Wassergeister (spirits of the waters), or Nixen. There were also a quantity of lares, or favorable household gods of an inferior degree; while tormenting genii haunted the houses and their neighborhoods at night, disturbing slumberers and throwing stones at passers-by. Horses and bulls were considered sacred, and bears, wolves, and foxes were objects of respectful awe. The gods and goddesses often took the form of birds, and asmong these the eagle, raven, and Woodpecker were regarded with the highest veneration. The cuckoo was supposed to possess the gift of prophecy. Serpents also were worshipped, and the fear they inspired gave rise to the fable of the dragon. The cosmogony of Germany seems to have greatly varied With the times and in the different tribes; the general belief was that the gods originated out of chaos, created the world, and governed it. Belief in continued existence after death was shown by the idea of the great city of the dead Walhalla. The mode of worship was very simple, if compared with that of the Greeks and Romans, or even of the Celts. The temples were not generally structures made by men, but often trees or groves which the deity was supposed to inhabit, revealing himself in the rustling of the leaves. Some of the gods dwelt in the mountains, caves, or streams. Yet there were also regular temples, of which vestigen are yet found, and which contained images of the gods; for, although Caesar and Tacitus deny their existence, there is oft mention made in the early times of Christianity of the destruction of idols in Germany (See IRMENSUL), and images of the sun and the moon have been found (though these may also have belonged to Celtic or Slavonic tribes). The holy places were mountains or rocks; e.g. the Blocksberg, the chain of mountains between Silesia and Bohemia, etc. The emoods and trees, especially the oak, beech, and linden-tree, were objects of particular veneration. Unbelievers were not allowed to touch them, or to enter the groves.

The worship consisted in prayer to the gods; the sacrifices were either propitiatory or thank-offerings; they also took place before consulting the omens, going to war, electing a king, or on any other special occasion, These sacrifices consisted generally in horses, bulls, goats, etc., and even human beings. The color of the animal was generally white. Besides this, on all festive occasions, a portion of the feast was offered to the household gods, and laid before their shrine. No mention is made of the general feasts of the Germans in the earlier times, yet it is considered likely that they had at least as principal ones the Juel, Easter, and the Summer feasts. The priests took past in legislation and the wars as well as in worship, and in war they carried the sacred images or symbols against the enemy. In the household the head of the family could act as its priest. Chosen women, called Alrunes, consecrated the horses, and prophesied by consulting the omens at the sacrifices. See Schedius, De diis germanis (Amat. 1648); G. Schutz, Exercitationes ad Germaniam sacram gentilem facientes (Lpz. 1748); Moser, De vett. Germanorum et Gallorum theologia (1749); Meyer, Erorterung d. ehemaligen Religionswesens d. Deutschen (Lpz. 1756); Hermann, De puriori Dei cultu naturali veterum Germanorum (Baireuth, 1761); Siebenkees, Von der Religion der alten Deutschen (Altdorf, 1771); Reinhold, Beitrage einer Mythologie der alten D. Gotter (Munst. 1791); Loos, D. Gotterlehre der alt. Deutschen (Col. 1804); Scheller, Mythologie d. nordischen u. deutschen Volker (Regensb. 1816); Braun, Der relig. der alt. Deutschen (Mainz, 1819); Mone, Gesch. d. Heidenthums in nordischen Europa (Lpz. 1819-23, 2 volumes); Bö nisch, D. Gö tter Deutschlands (Kamenz, 1830): Legis, Handbuch d. altdeutschen u. nordisch. Gottelehre (Lpz. 1831); Barth, Altdeutsche Religion (Leipz. 18032); J. Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie (Gotting. 1835; 2d ed. 1844); Simrock, Handbuch der D. Mythologie (Munich, 1844-55, 2 volumes); J.W. Wolf, Zeitschrift fur D. Myth. u. Sittenkunde (Gö tt. 1853- 55, 2 volumes). (J.N.P.)

II. History of Christianity in Germany. As some of the German tribes were under the rule of the Romans at the beginning of the Christian aera, Christianity became known to the Germans at a very early date. Some of the episcopal sees, as Cologne, even claims to have bad disciples of the apostles as their first bishops. Peter is said (Baron. ad ann. 46) to have ordained the bishops Eucharius, Egistus, and Marcianus for Germany. In 314, when the Council of Arles was held, we have trust-worthy information of a bishopric in Cologne. In the south of Germany, on the other hand, we find the first Christians at Augusta Vindelicorum (Augsburg), in Rhcetia, into which Christianity was introduced by the bishop Narcissus, in the time of Dioclesian (284-305). In the following centuries the number of bishoprics in Western Germany gradually increased, and at the beginning of the 6th century we find subject to the jurisdiction of the metropolitan of Treves, bishops at Cologne, Mentz, Martigny, Worms, Spires, besides a number of others whose sees now belong to France or Switzerland. Next to south-western Germany, it was the south-east in which Christianity made the greatest progress. At the beginning of the 7th century there were in the two Noricums, or modern Bavaria and Austria, proportionally almost as many Christian churches as in the other countries of the ancient Western empire, and Bavaria, in particular, became an entirely Christian state. Even before this time many of the German tribes which had invaded and conquered the western provinces of the Roman empire had either become Christian or were inclined to be so.

The Goths received the first announcement of Christianity from prisoners taken in war, and a Gothic metropolitan had a seat in the Synod of Nicaea. Ambng the West Gothic princes, Fritigern was favorable to Christianity, but Athanarich cruelly persecuted it. When the Western Goths, conquered by the Huns, had to seek refuge in the Roman empire, they had to consent to be baptized. The form of Christianity which they then received from the emperor Valens was Arian. Other German tribes, like the Eastern Goths and the Vandals, likewise became Christians of the Arian faith, which was carried by the German conquerors into Spain, Italy, and Northern Africa. To an Arian bishop of the West Goths, Ulfilas, Germany is indebted for the first German version of the Bible. The conversion of Clovis, the king of the Franks, to the Catholic Church, gave to the German tribes who had left the fatherland the first orthodox king; and the success of the Franks in their wars with the Arian kings, in which they were aided not a little by the Catholic subjects of the latter, soon led to the destruction of Arianism as a national religion in the Germanic world. Under the influence of the Franks, in the beginning of the 8th century, the Catholic Church pressed forward as far as the Saale and the Elbe, but it was under no ecclesiastical regulations, and was much corrupted by paganism. British monks carried the Gospel as far as the Main, and among the Alemanni, but they had no connection with Rome. (See COLUMBANUS); (See GALL). Winfred, the Anglo-Saxon monk, better known under the name of Boniface (q.v.), was sent from Rome to undertake the conversion of Germany, and finally became the apostle of the Germans, and the founder of the German Church. He made the German Church dependent upon Rome, and, in consequence of the plenary powers given him by the Roman see, was looked upon as the general bishop of Germany. The last serious struggle in defense of German paganism was made by the Saxons; but, finally acknowledging their inability to resist Charlemagne, they resolved to adopt the religion of the conquerors, and become one nation with the Franks. The Christianization of Eastern Germany, which at that time was chiefly inhabited by Slavic tribes, was not completed until the 13th century.

When the Roman empire had been revived in the German nation by the Othos, the emperor was regarded as the political head of Christendom in the West, and the holy empire as a divine institution. The old legal principle that God has divided all power on earth between the emperor and the pope was frequently construed in Germany so as to mean that the emperor carried the secular sword as a feudal investiture from the pope. The efforts of mediaeval popes to enlarge the papal power at the expense of the imperial, and even to establish the absolute superiority of the pope over all secular power and the whole world, led to continual wars between the emperors and the popes. The popes entirely failed to carry through their theocratic idea; but the authority of the emperors of Germany, as the first among the Christian rulers, likewise steadily declined.

In the 16th century Germany was the birthplace of the great reformation of the Church, which substituted the Lutheran and Reformed churches for that of Rome not only in a large portion of Germany, but in a number of other European countries. It seemed at one time probable that the whole of the German empire might be gained for the Reformation; but, after many wars, one of which, the Thirty Years' War, was one of the fiercest and longest religious wars on record, the activity of the Jesuits and the courts of Austria and Bavaria saved a large portion of Germany, especially in South Germany, for the old Church.

The old German empire was dissolved in 1806. In 1815 the German Confederation was established as a league of independent states. Another great change in the constitution of the German nation was effected by the war of 1866, which united most of the German states into the North- German Confederation, under the leadership of Prussia, while Austria was wholly excluded from Germany. Bavaria, Wü rtemberg, Baden, and part of Hesse-Darmstadt were recognized as independent South-German states. The Grand-duchy of Luxemburg was also released from all connection with Germany, and remained a semi-independent state, under the rule of the king of Holland. The little principality of Lichtenstein, in South Germany, was totally ignored at this reconstruction of Germany, and likewise formed henceforth an independent state. Our Cyclopaedia devotes a special article to Austria, Prussia, and each of the smaller German states, in which a full statement of their Church history and ecclesiastical statistics is given.

In 1885, the number of Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Jews in the North-German Confederation and the South-German states was about as follows:

 

Protestants

Rom. Cath.

Jews

North German Confederation

18,306,371

9,620,326

366,575

South German State

11,208,081

7,162,653

196,597

Total

29,514,452

16,782,979

563,172

 

See Hansiz, Germania Sacra (2 volumes, Augsburg; 3d volume, Vienna, 1755); Holl, Statistica Eccles. German. (Manheim, 1788, 2 volumes); Germania sacra (St. Blasien, 1794 and 1797, 2 volumes); Rettberg, Kirchengeschichte Deutchlands (Gö tting. 1846; thus [1869] far 3 volumes); Fiedrich, Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands (Bamberg, 1867, volume 1; 1868, volume 2.) (A.J.S.)

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Germany'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/g/germany.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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