Make your own free website on
History of Catholic church - renaissance and reformation
The first Reformer was Martin Luther, born in 1483. His father had wanted him to study law but Martin chose to study for the ministry and became a monk. He taught theology at the University of Wittenburg, Germany but became increasingly troubled by the corruption within the Church. In 1516 he became convinced that salvation was available through faith in Christ only. One of the ways that the Church raised money was through the sale of indulgences (a reduction in time spent in purgatory, a place where sins were purged before you were admitted to heaven). Archbishop Albert controlled two provinces at the time. (Even though the Church officially limited these offices to one province) When he was campaigning to control a third, Pope Leo X offered it to him for a large sum of money. The Archbishop set about raising the funds by selling indulgences.

In 1517 Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the church door in Wittenburg. He harshly criticized the abuses of the indulgence system and challenged the necessity of priests to administer sacraments, believing in the priesthood of the believer. In 1518 he was called before the Diet of Augsburg where he repeated his assertion that the scriptures were the sole authority for believers, not the Pope. Luther was eventually excommunicated and his books were burned but the German princes liked what he was doing and protected his life.

John Calvin (1509-64) was the other main figure in this new Protestant movement. By 1550 he had many followers in Holland, Switzerland, Scotland and France. Luther may have started the reformation but Calvin gave it a structure. Calvin, a French citizen, wrote the “Institutes of the Christian Religion” in an effort to win King Francis of France over to the new ideas of the Reformation. Calvin believed that the Holy Spirit irresistibly draws people to God. He asserted that the church and government were both agents of God and should cooperate.

England became a part of the reformation more through politics than theological debate. King Henry VIII (1509-47) needed an heir to the throne and with his wife was unable to produce one. The Pope would not grant a divorce and so Henry convinced Parliament to declare him head of the Church in England. Henry’s daughter, Mary Tudor was a staunch Catholic and persecuted the Protestants. When Henry’s other daughter, Elizabeth, inherited the throne, she tolerated the Protestants just enough so as not to irritate the Pope. When the English fleet defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588, the Anglican Church permanently replaced the Catholic one in England.

Other reformers of historical note were the Puritans. They claimed that the Anglican Church was too close to the Catholic Church. They were called Puritans because they wanted to purify the Church of England. They wanted a complete separation of church and state. The Puritans sailed to Plymouth and were influential in the New World.

Huldreich Zwingli was a Swiss priest who was converted after reading Luther’s writing. He met Luther at one point but they were unable to agree on all theological matters. The Anabaptists, influenced by Zwingli’s emphasis on the Bible, were another movement started in Switzerland. They were called Anabaptists because they taught and practiced adult baptism of the believer. The city council of Zurich expelled them. The Amish, Mennonites and Quakers came from this school.

The Counter-Reformation was an attempt by the Catholic Church to reform itself in the light of Reformation theology. The Jesuits were formed and became a force for good even through the excesses of the Spanish Inquisition. They helped to push the last vestiges of the Moslem influence out of Spain. It was the Jesuits who did much of the Church’s mission work in the New World and the Far East.

The creative spirit of the Renaissance was severely curtailed (shortened) by the growing religious infighting. The Thirty-Years War was essentially a struggle to determine which areas would be Catholic and which would be Protestant. The War officially ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Most of the current branches of Christianity were formed in Europe by then. Russia was the center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity and the other European Churches became involved in spreading their faith to the colonies.

The effects of the Reformation were significant and far-reaching. Religious individualism led to individualism of other types. Popular education was the result of new Christian’s desire to read the Bible for themselves. The people of America and Europe became an educated workforce and electorate. Protestantism stimulated capitalism and a strong work ethic. Spiritual equality became political equality and democracies were established in the light of this new view citizens had of themselves.

Written by Gerry Berard

The Reformation in Germany

The Renaissance was definitely a first step towards a revolution in religion, a period known as the Reformation. There is no doubt that the political circumstances at the beginning of the 16th Century had much to do with the fact that the Reformation succeeded at all and also that it failed to succeed in some places. Although it is true that the Catholic Church was in desperate need of reform, it was not entirely necessary for the reform to cause a split in the Church.

The split in Germany was possibly due largely to the political situation where the various princes had been fighting the Emperor for many centuries. Once Luther had made his break, however, and when it was seen that he was to succeed unharmed, other reformers such as Zwingli and Calvin climbed onto the bandwagon and so caused a splintering even of the Protestant movement.

Yet the reformists did not have a smooth passage. As a result of their actions, there was civil war in Germany, repression in Switzerland, social turmoil in France, persecution in England and the Inquisition (a former Roman Catholic tribunal for the discovery and punishment of heresy--adherence to a religious opinion contrary to church dogma) in Spain and Italy. The 16th Century proved therefore to be a blood-thirsty period and the reform of Christianity was accompanied by anything but brotherly love and a spirit of forgiveness. It was nevertheless one of the great revolutions of the western world and its implications must be compared to those other great calamities such as the French Revolution.

Luther nails his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg.
The story of Luther's reformation is well known and can, no doubt, be narrated by most school pupils. On 31 August 1517 Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and professor of Scripture at the University of Wittenberg, nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church.

He was simply following the standard academic practice amongst professors of the time when they wished to debate an academic question. Luther was therefore merely challenging other theologians to defend the Catholic Church's teaching on a number of matters, especially the question of indulgences but soon he found himself brought before a tribunal of the Church to justify his own position. He was eventually excommunicated and so the Reformation was born.

That's all very easy but a number of important questions present themselves and they need answering if we are in any way to understand the Reformation and the breakup of the unity of the Christian Church. First, why did Luther challenge the Catholic Church as he did? Second, why did he go so far as to break with the Church? Did he actually intend to bring about a religious revolution and effectively destroy the power of the Catholic Church? Why did he succeed when greater men before him, men such as John Huss and John Wycliffe, had failed?

Why did the Reformation then suddenly splinter off into so many pressure groups which were prepared to kill each other, all in the name of religion? Why did the Reformation only succeed in Germany and northern Europe but failed (initially) to take root in England, France, Spain and Italy? Finally, why was the Catholic Church and its ally, the Holy Roman Empire, unable to hold back the floodwater of the Reformation?

To answer these questions, one has to spend some time in analysing the political, social and economic conditions of the time. Indeed, it would seem that the so-called reformers were simply men of their time, aided by the political, social and economic circumstances in which they found themselves. Had they stood up at any other time, it is probable that they would either not have attempted a revolution at all or would have failed to bring one about.

Dr Keith Tankard
December 2001

The Reformation and Counter Reformation

The Reformation was the religious revolution that took place in the Western church in the 16th century; its greatest leaders were Martin Luther and John Calvin. Having far-reaching political, economic and social effects, the Reformation became the basis for the founding of Protestantism, one of the three major branches of Christianity.

The world of the late medieval Catholic Church from which the 16th-century reformers emerged was a complex one. Over the centuries, the church, particularly in the office of the papacy, had become deeply involved in the political life of Western Europe. The resulting intrigues and political manipulations, combined with the church's increasing power and wealth, contributed to the bankrupting of the church as a spiritual force. Abuses such as the sale of indulgences (or spiritual privileges) and relics and the corruption of the clergy exploited the pious and further undermined the church's spiritual authority.

The Reformation of the 16th century was not unprecedented. Reformers within the medieval church such as St. Francis, Peter Waldo, Jan Hus, and John Wycliffe addressed abuses in the life of the church in the centuries before 1517. In the 16th century, Erasmus of Rotterdam, a great Humanist scholar, was the chief proponent of liberal Catholic reform that attacked moral abuses and popular superstitions in the church and urged the imitation of Christ, the supreme teacher. These movements reveal an ongoing concern for reform within the church in the years before Luther is said to have posted his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Castle Church, Wittenberg, on Oct. 31, 1517, the eve of All Saints' Day--the traditional date for the beginning of the Reformation. Martin Luther claimed that what distinguished him from previous reformers was that while they attacked corruption in the life of the church; he went to the theological root of the problem--the perversion of the church's doctrine of redemption and grace. Luther, a pastor and professor at the University of Wittenberg, deplored the entanglement of God's free gift of grace in a complex system of indulgences and good works. In his Ninety-five Theses, he attacked the indulgence system, insisting that the pope had no authority over purgatory and that the doctrine of the merits of the saints had no foundation in the gospel. Here lay the key to Luther's concerns for the ethical and theological reform of the church: Scripture alone is authoritative (sola sciptura) and justification is by faith (sola fide), not by works. While he did not intend to break with the Catholic Church, a confrontation with the papacy was not long in coming. In 1521, Luther was tried before the Imperial Diet of Worms and was eventually excommunicated; what began, as an internal reform movement had become a fracture in western Christendom.

The Reformation movement within Germany diversified almost immediately, and other reform movements arose independently of Luther. Huldrych Zwingli built a Christian theocracy in Zürich in which church and state joined for the service of God. Zwingli agreed with Luther in the centrality of the doctrine of justification by faith, but he espoused a much more radical understanding of the Eucharist. Luther had rejected the Catholic Church's doctrine of transubstantiation, according to which the bread and wine in the Eucharist became the actual body and blood of Christ. According to Luther's doctrine of consubstantiation, the body of Christ was physically present in the elements because Christ is present everywhere, but Luther was not willing to go as far as Zwingli, who claimed that the Eucharist was simply a memorial of the death of Christ and a declaration of faith by the recipients.

From the group surrounding Zwingli emerged those more radical than himself. These Radical Reformers, part of the so-called left wing of the Reformation, insisted that the principle of scriptural authority be applied without compromise. Unwilling to accept what they considered violation of biblical teachings, they broke with Zwingli over the issue of infant baptism, thereby receiving the nickname "Anabaptists" on the grounds that they re-baptized adults who had been baptized as children. The Swiss Anabaptists sought to follow the example of Jesus found in the gospels. They refused to swear oaths or bear arms, taught the strict separation of church and state, and insisted on the visible church of adult believers--distinguished from the world by its disciplined, regenerated life.

Another important form of Protestantism (as those protesting against Rome were designated by the Diet of Speyer in 1529) is Calvinism, named for John Calvin, a French lawyer who fled France after his conversion to the Protestant cause. In Basel, Calvin brought out the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536, the first extensive, systematic, theological treatise of the new reform movement. Calvin agreed with Luther's teaching on justification by faith. However, he found a more positive place for law within the Christian community than Luther did in his concern to distinguish sharply between law and gospel. In Geneva, Calvin was able to experiment with his ideal of a disciplined community of the elect. Under Calvin's forceful leadership, church and state were united for the "glory of God."

The Reformation spread to other European countries over the course of the 16th century. By mid-century, Lutheranism dominated northern Europe. Eastern Europe offered a seedbed for even more radical varieties of Protestantism, because kings were weak, nobles strong, and cities few, and because religious pluralism had long existed. Spain and Italy were to be the great centers of the Counter-Reformation and Protestantism never gained a strong foothold there.

In England the Reformation's roots were primarily political rather than religious. Henry VIII, incensed by Pope Clement VII's refusal to grant him a divorce, repudiated papal authority and in 1534 established the Anglican Church with the king as the supreme head. In spite of its political implications, Henry's reorganization of the church permitted the beginning of religious reform in England, which included the preparation of a liturgy in English, The Book of Common Prayer. In Scotland, John Knox, who spent time in Geneva and was greatly influenced by John Calvin, led the establishment of Presbyterianism, which made possible the eventual union of Scotland with England.

The age of Reformation and Counter-Reformation

The specter of many national churches supplanting a unitary Catholic Church became a grim reality during the age of the Reformation. What neither heresy nor schism had been able to do before--to divide Western Christendom permanently and irreversibly--was done by a movement that confessed a loyalty to the orthodox creeds of Christendom and professed an abhorrence for schism. By the time the Reformation was over, Roman Catholicism had become something different from what it had been in the early centuries or even in the later Middle Ages.

Roman Catholicism and the Protestant Reformation.

Whatever its nonreligious causes may have been, the Protestant Reformation arose within Roman Catholicism; there both its positive accomplishments and its negative effects had their roots. The standing of the church within the political order and the class structure of Western Europe had been irrevocably altered in the course of the later middle Ages. Thus the most extravagant claims put forward for the political authority of the church and the papacy, as formulated by Pope Boniface VIII (reigned 1294-1303), had come just at the time when such authority was in fact rapidly declining. By the time Protestantism arose to challenge the spiritual authority of the papacy, therefore, there was no longer any way to invoke that political authority against the challenge. The medieval class structure, too, had undergone fundamental and drastic changes with the rise of the bourgeoisie throughout Western Europe; it is not a coincidence that in northern Europe and Britain the middle class was to become the principal bulwark of the Protestant opposition to Roman Catholicism. The traditional Roman Catholic prohibition of any lending of money at interest as "usury," the monastic glorification of poverty as an ascetic ideal, and the Roman Catholic system of holidays as times when no work was to be done were all seen by the rising merchant class as obstacles to financial development.

Accompanying these sociopolitical forces in the crisis of late medieval Roman Catholicism were spiritual and theological factors that also helped to bring on the Protestant Reformation. By the end of the 15th century there was a widely-held impression that the resources for church reform within Roman Catholicism had been tried and found wanting: the papacy refused to reform itself, the councils had not succeeded in bringing about lasting change, and the professional theologians were more interested in scholastic debates than in the nurture of genuine Christian faith and life. Such sentiments were often oversimplified and exaggerated, but their very currency made them a potent influence even when they were mistaken (and they were not always mistaken). The financial corruption and pagan immorality within Roman Catholicism, even at the highest levels, reminded critics of "the abomination of desolation" spoken of by the prophet Daniel, and nothing short of a thoroughgoing "reformation in head and members [in capite et membris]" seemed to be called for.

These demands were in themselves nothing new, but the Protestant Reformation took place when they coincided with, and found dramatic expression in, the highly personal struggle of one medieval Roman Catholic. Martin Luther asked an essentially medieval question: "How do I obtain a God who is merciful to me?" He also tried a medieval answer to that question by becoming a monk and by subjecting himself to fasting and discipline--but all to no avail. The answer that he eventually did find, the conviction that God was merciful not because of anything that the sinner could do but because of a freely given grace that was received by faith alone (the doctrine of justification by faith), was not utterly without precedent in the Roman Catholic theological tradition; but in the form in which Luther stated it there appeared to be a fundamental threat to Catholic teaching and sacramental life. And in his treatise The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, issued in 1520, Luther denounced the entire system of medieval Christendom as an unwarranted human invention foisted on the church.

Although Luther in his opposition to the practice of selling indulgences was unsparing in his attacks upon the moral, financial, and administrative abuses within Roman Catholicism, using his mastery of the German language to denounce them, he insisted throughout his life that the primary object of his critique was not the life but the doctrine of the church, not the corruption of the ecclesiastical structure but the distortion of the gospel. The late medieval mass was "a dragon's tail," not because it was liturgically unsound but because the medieval definition of the mass as a sacrifice offered by the church to God--not only, as Luther believed, as a means of grace granted by God to the church--jeopardized the uniqueness of the unrepeatable sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. The cult of the Virgin Mary and of the saints diminished the office of Christ as the sole mediator between God and the human race. Thus the pope was the Antichrist because he represented and enforced a substitute religion in which the true church, the bride of Christ, had been replaced by--and identified with--an external juridical institution that laid claim to the obedience due to God himself. When, after repeated warnings, Luther refused such obedience, he was excommunicated by Pope Leo X in 1521.Until his excommunication Luther had gone on regarding himself as a loyal Roman Catholic and had appealed "from a poorly informed Pope to a Pope who ought to be better informed." He had, moreover, retained an orthodox Roman Catholic perspective on most of the corpus of Christian doctrine, not only the Trinity and the two natures in the person of Christ but baptismal regeneration and the Real Presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. Many of the other Protestant Reformers who arose during the 16th century were considerably less conservative in their doctrinal stance, distancing themselves from Luther's position no less than from the Roman Catholic one. Thus Luther's Swiss opponent, Ulrich Zwingli, lumped Luther's sacramental teaching with the medieval one, and Luther in turn exclaimed: "Better to hold with the papists than with you!" John Calvin was considerably more moderate than Zwingli, but both sacramentally and liturgically he broke with the Roman Catholic tradition. The Anglican Reformation strove to retain the historical episcopate and, particularly under Queen Elizabeth I, steered a middle course, liturgically and even doctrinally, between Roman Catholicism and continental Protestantism.

The polemical Roman Catholic accusation--which the mainline Reformers vigorously denied--that these various species of conservative Protestantism, with their orthodox dogmas and quasi-Catholic forms, were a pretext for the eventual rejection of most of traditional Christianity, seemed to be confirmed with the emergence of the radical Reformation. The Anabaptists, as their name indicated, were known for their practice of "rebaptizing" those who had received the sacrament of baptism as infants; this was, at its foundation, a redefinition of the nature of the church, which they saw not as the institution allied with the state and embracing good and wicked members but as the community of true believers who had accepted the cost of Christian discipleship by a free personal decision. Although the Anabaptists, in their doctrines of God and Christ, retained the historical orthodoxy of the Nicene Creed while rejecting the orthodox doctrines of church and sacraments, those Protestants who went on to repudiate orthodox Trinitarianism as part of their Reformation claimed to be carrying out, more consistently than either Luther and Calvin or the Anabaptists had done, the full implications of the rejection of Roman Catholicism, which they all had in common.

The challenge of the Protestant Reformation became also the occasion for a resurgent Roman Catholicism to clarify and to reaffirm Roman Catholic principles; that endeavor had, in one sense, never been absent from the life and teaching of the church, but it came out now with new force. As the varieties of Protestantism proliferated, the apologists for Roman Catholicism pointed to the Protestant principle of the right of the private interpretation of Scripture as the source of this confusion. Against the Protestant elevation of the Scripture to the position of sole authority, they emphasized that Scripture and church tradition were inseparable and always had been. Pressing that point further, they denounced justification by faith alone and other cherished Protestant teachings as novelties without grounding in authentic church tradition. And they warned that the doctrine of "faith alone, without works" as taught by Luther would sever the moral nerve and remove all incentive for holy living.

Yet these negative reactions to Protestantism were not by any means the only, perhaps not even the primary, form of participation by Roman Catholicism in the history of the Reformation. The emergence of the Protestant phenomenon did not exhaust the reformatory impulse within Roman Catholicism, nor can it be seen as the sole inspiration for Catholic reform. Rather, to a degree that has usually been overlooked by Protestant historians and that has often been ignored even by Roman Catholic historians, there was a distinct historical movement in the 16th century that can only be identified as the Roman Catholic Reformation.

Gàbor Barna, Szeged, Hungary

       Central Europe, as well as Eastern Central Europe and Eastern Europe, are not unambivalent concepts.  Their meaning needs to be defined more precisely, or it must be recognized that this meaning changes not only from one period and region to another but also from one discipline to another.  At the same time it was quite clear that in the years following the Second World War in Europe divided by the Iron Curtain we spoke of Western and Eastern Europe.  Now, after the downfall of socialism and 1989/1990 we are witnessing a revival of the notion of Central Europe.  Similarly, introduction and use of the concept of Middle Europe needs to be interpreted and Justified.

In an essay the Hungarian historian Jenó Szúcs speaks of "three Europes": Western, Eastern and Eastern Central Europe.  He uses the latter to designate the region, difficult to define precisely, inhabited mainly by Poles, Czechs and Hungarians.  He stresses that this region differs from both the West and the East, although it is tied to them, especially to the West, by strong bonds.  The reasons for this are largely to be found in ecclesiastical and religions history.  It is these factors that 1 wish to consider briefly here.

The most important questions of the church history and culture of Central Europe are related to the emergence of the region's feudal states and its Christianization.  One of the main characteristics of Central Europe is that it lies at the interface and zone of contact between Western and Eastern Christianity, the Latin and Greek rites, and at some stages in its history also with Islam.  The history of the region in the Middle Ages (5th to 10th centuries) is marked by the dynamic advance eastwards of Western Christianity bringing its religions and secular culture.
The conversion of the Slav and non-Slav peoples living to the East of the Elbe and the Danube and to the North began from the German/Frank region in the 10th to 14th centuries and was concluded mainly with the participation of the German church.  Together with the new religion and the church organization, the peoples converted to the Christian faith adopted the basic structure of contemporary Western civilization and many of its elements.  One of these was the Western monastic orders. based on the Rule of Saint Benedict which must have served as model for the regulated coexistence of small and large communities.  This Rule stressed the value of meaningful work and the personality (its motto is: ora et labora).

In this region Latin Christianity came into contact with the missionary efforts coming from Byzantium.  Which rite was followed by the new Christian peoples and churches and which church authority they submitted themselves to was thus an important political question.  The peoples establishing states in the region (the Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians) joined Western Christianity in the 10th to 14th centuries.  By the 15th century our region formed part of Western Christendom and civilization.

The appearance of Protestantism brought the division of Central Europe and in the 16th to 17th centuries struggles between the denominations, although it did not change the cultural frame of the region.  Nevertheless, relations between the two trends of Western Christianity were generally more balanced in Central Europe than in the countries of Western Europe.  There were also numerous new Protestant denominations (such as the Anti-Trinitarians in Transylvania) and the Jewish religion.  From the 16th century Central Europe presented a veritable mosaic of the Western Christian churches.  Besides the non-Christian religions (Jewish, Islam), the Eastern Christians also appeared in the region.  The 16th to 18th centuries brought a transitional setback for Western Christianity in the states of Central Europe (Hungary, Croatia).  The presence and role of large numbers of Jews in these societies appears to be a Central European characteristic.
The subsequent efforts for Counter-Reformation and Catholic restoration finally led everywhere to the strengthening of Catholicism.  This was achieved by force in Bohemia but more peacefully in Hungary and especially in Poland and Lithuania.  At the same time that Protestantism appeared in Hungary the central part of the country fell under Turkish occupation.  This was the westernmost point of Islamic expansion.  In this historical situation, the idea arose and became widely held that the Hungarian and Polish peoples, like the Jews-, -were a chose people and their task was to defend Christianity from Islam.  Later, between the two world wars the states of Central Europe once again formulated their historical role as bastions defending the West from the Bolshevism of the East.

After Hungary's liberation from the Turks (1686), the situation returned to what it had been in the Middle Ages: the country's Southern and Eastern border once again became the borderline between the Latin and Byzantine rites, and also Islam.  The only difference was that while in the Middle Ages the population on the Hungarian side of the border had been Hungarian in language and culture, in the 18th century this was only partly true.  As a consequence of the settlement policy of the Habsburg court, mainly Catholic (and to a much lesser extent Protestant) Germans, Slovaks, as well as Orthodox Serbs, Romanians and many other ethnic groups found a new home here through settlement by the central authorities.  This became a historical and political question of vital importance in the 20th century.  The state of political power also changed: while Hungary had been independent in the Middle Ages, it was now a relatively autonomous part of the large Habsburg Empire.
Another characteristic feature of the history of Central Europe in the Middle Ages and the modern age is a strong German cultural influence and the migration of large masses of Germans to the East.  The settlers moving to the Baltic states, Poland and Hungary - and even further East - brought with them their everyday culture, religion, priests and in cases even devotional objects from their birthplace.  In this way new cults were introduced into Central Europe and new places of pilgrimage arose.  This cult filiation applied mainly to the Germans who also introduced a different culture of work and implements in this region.

 The Greek Catholic Church, an Orthodox church which entered into union with Rome, is a typical Central European phenomenon in the zone of contact between the Latin and Eastern rites.  This union was promoted by the Jesuits.  As a result of their efforts, in the 16th century (1596) part of the Ukrainians and White Russians living in the eastern part of Poland joined the Catholic Church, followed in the 17th century by the Ruthenians in the North-eastern counties of Hungary (today's Subcarpathia, Ukraine) and in the late 17th century (1698) by Romanians in Northern Transylvania.  These uniate churches retained their autonomous church government, Eastern rites and liturgical language.  They became the channel for a strong Western influence.  This Greek Catholic Church still exists; it was only in Poland on the occasion of the partition of 1772 that the Russian Orthodox Church ended the autonomy of the Uniate Eastern rite believers who came under Russian rule, forcing them back into the Orthodox Church.  The Soviet-Russian power did the same thing later when it occupied the territories concerned, as did Czechoslovakia and Romania as socialist satellite states.  In many places this imposed measure did not result in a merging with Orthodoxy but as a counter-reaction led to the Latinization of the Greek rite believers.  As a consequence of such measures, the 18th to 20th centuries were a period in which Western Christianity retreated and Eastern Christianity expanded in our region.  After the revolutionary changes of the 1980s and 1990s the Greek Catholic churches are reorganizing in these states.
In the first half of the 20th century the advance of the East continued.  After the First World War Hungary lost its Eastern territories.  It lost considerably more territory than the area left to it.  In 1920 the counties of North Eastern Hungary (Subcarpathia) were annexed to Czechoslovakia; later in 1944 the Soviet Red Army occupied these areas and annexed them to the Soviet Union.  The East gained ground here.
The same thing happened in Transylvania.  After the First World War, with the occupation of Transylvanla and the Eastern edge of the Hungarian Great Plain by Romania an Orthodox Eastern country pushed its borders westwards.  At first it caused only a change of national and language dominance with the help of the political and military power it acquired, but after the Second World War the state authorities relentlessly persecuted and oppressed all the churches of Western Christianity forcing them to retreat.  This was the fate not only of the Protestant and Roman Catholic Hungarian and German churches; at the stroke of a pen the Greek Catholic Church in Romania was dissolved.  This despite the fact that it was educated priests of the Greek Catholic Church in the first half of the 19th century who formulated the theory of Daco-Romanian continuity, accepted today as the official Romanian view of history.  The restoration of the Greek Catholic Church and ensuring the conditions for its operation, to-ether with the other Catholic and Protestant denominations is still a subject of political debate in Romania today.
The borders of Poland also changed considerably after the Second World War and the East gained territory here too.

 The popular religiosity of Central Europe arose on the borderline between Western and Eastern religiosity.  I regard popular religiosity as being the official religions practice of the Christian churches, supplemented with elements of local cults. It is strongly syncretic, but its components supplement rather than exclude each other. Its presence must be taken into account right from the earliest times because the process of Christianization occurred in society from the top down.  It was the ruling families and parallel with them the strata holding political, military and economic power who first adopted the new religion.  An essentially similar process took place at the time of the Reformation too.  The famous saying - cuius regio, cius religio - dates from this period.  The religions practice of earlier periods did not cease overnight but continued to live for some time, was transformed, and opened the way for the teaching of higher church and secular powers.
This is why popular religiosity has no denomination.  In popular religiosity, the religious, believing person responds in essentially the same or similar way to events and phenomena, communicates with his God or with the mediating saints.  However, the concrete manifestations of these may be specific to particular periods and denominations.  One of the most characteristic features of popular religiosity is the way it mingles religious and magical thinking.

             However, the belatedness of the process compared to the Christianization of the Western and South-eastern peoples also means that among certain peoples in our region the ideology and practice of folk religiosity lived longer in historical time than elsewhere. This fact may have played a role even in participation in the Reformation.  This was certainly the case in Hungary.  Its influence right up to the present is that it is rather the Protestants (which in Hungary means mainly Calvinists) who represent the so-called national sentiment and their dominance is palpable.  Neo-paganism, the search for the reconstruction of pre-Christian religions formations may also appear as a component strengthening national identity and arising from Calvinist circles.  The intention is to create distinctive national symbols and use them as an expression of national interests.  In   Hungary this notion is principally anti-American, while in Poland and the Baltic states it is anti-Russian.  In Hungary the reconstructed cult of the relics of archaic Hungarian shamanism, the costumes and occupations of Hungarians before their conversion to Christianity falls into this category.  Neo-shamanism has appeared in the
Scandinavian countries too.  Neo-paganism also implies a critique of Europe.
With the eastward spread of Christianity a new secular culture also appeared in the region.  Its vehicle and representative was the church.  This was an international culture which brought uniformity to the Christian countries through the use of Latin.  Parish, chapter and monastery schools were established.  For a long while the priests were the vehicles of this culture linked to the use of Latin and literacy., The monastic orders also appeared in the region.  In the early stages of Christianization they represented learning and they recorded what they considered to be the most important events of the time in the monastic annals.  They introduced many important agricultural implements and cultivation procedures into Central Europe and they also brought horticulture.  Over the centuries of the modern age the monastic orders operated many spiritual movements which in part also prefigured later bourgeois associations and in part, especially in the 19th century, strengthened under the influence of such associations.  It was in this culture that the idea of the university took shape and universities appeared, first in the West and then in the countries of Central Europe.
             Eastern monasticism was less sophisticated. The functional articulation that took place in Western Christianity did not occur here.  The only monastic form followed the rule of Saint Basil the Great (4th century).  They too were representatives of the Christian way of life and learning, but over the centuries there was a decline in the standard both of life in the monasteries and the learning cultivated there.  The monks took part in mission work and also performed pastoral tasks.  In the first centuries the culture of the peoples following Orthodoxy was much more ecclesiastical: their liturgy that took shape by the 11th century was performed in the language of the people, with the active participation of the believers.  It was through the Eastern liturgy that the organ spread as an instrument in the West too.  After the century of the Iconoclast controversy (8th century), the place where the liturgy was performed, together with the iconostasis took shape, acquiring a distinctive form in different regions of Orthodoxy (e.g. Russia, the Balkans).  The rules of Eastern church architecture were also formed: because of the strong preservation of traditions there was little change over the centuries in the domed basilica church.  Veneration of Mary is very strong in Orthodoxy.  The phenomenon of pilgrimage also exists but it was evoked by a different cause from that in Western Christianity.  Here the cause was the respect of images based on Byzantine traditions, there it was the doctrine of indulgence that developed over the centuries.  The major places of pilgrimage and pilgrim routes can be regarded as the skeleton of Eurapean Christian culture.  In the places of pilgrimage of international significance, such as Aachen, Santiago de Compostela and Rome, pilgrims were able to experience the feeling of the oneness of Christian Europe.
Of the many places of pilgrimage in Central Europe, three also became internationally important.  One is Mariazell in Austria which is still a common place of pilgrimage of the Austrians, the Southern and Western Slavs (Slovenes, Croats, Czechs, Slovaks) and the Hungarians.  Czestochowa in Poland became a Polish national place of pilgrimage from the 16th century.  Its dominance has now become international.  The biggest place of pilgrimage for the Greek Catholic world is Màriapócs (Eastern Hungary).  It attracts the Greek Catholic Ruthenians and Romanians, as well as the Roman Catholic peoples of the area: Slovaks, Hungarians, Poles and Germans.
Many elements of mediaeval religiosity were revived in the Baroque age.  This was reflected not only in the practice of pilgrimage, but also in the archaic prayers which were set down from oral tradition in a number of countries, including Finland and Hungary.  These prayers are the relic of a religiosity of Franciscan spirit that was characteristic of the whole of Western Christendom, a reminder of a once uniform Christian Western Europe.

The Reformation put an end to this uniformity.  One third of Europe became Protestant.  From time to time religions disputes broke the peace and fractured societies.  It is worth noting that the aggressiveness of these disputes was not as strong in Central Europe as in Western Europe.  While in Northern Europe the Protestant churches became the established churches, in Central Europe a certain balance was achieved: the states were forced to recognize freedom of religion (Transylvania, 1568 - Torda religions peace; Bratislava, 1608; Vienna, Diploma Leopoldinum, etc.). In the Eastern region of Central Europe the Reformation and Counter-Reformation or Catholic reform led to a state of equilibrium among the denominations resulting in religions tolerance.  The Reformation did not appear in the Orthodox churches.
The Reformation set off many changes in Europe with effects that are still felt today.  The principle of free research grew out of the free interpretation of the Bible.  This soon led to further divisions in the Protestant churches.  Education in the vernacular rapidly expanded and was democratized with the help of printing invented around that time, making education widespread.  The national Protestant churches (established churches) freed from the domination of Rome became representatives of the national ideal and nationalism.

The Catholic reform or Counter-Reformation appearing as a counteraction to the Reformation introduced innovations of similar significance in Catholicism.  The Jesuits were the most important representatives of this change.  Besides development of the Catholic schools, they urged church union, that is, a communion of Eastern Christians and those following the Latin Rite.  In practice this meant that the Orthodox Christians recognized the Pope7 as head of the church and returned to the Catholic church while retaining their own rites, liturgy and customs.  However, the expansion of Western Christianity came to a halt in the 18th century and even gave way to the expansion of Orthodoxy.
This latter process continued under the special circumstances of the 20th century.  In most of the so-called socialist countries (with the exception of Poland and Hungary), the functioning of the Roman rite and Protestant churches was largely restricted, while the Greek Catholic, that is, the Uniate Church (together with the monastic orders) was banned and the church was reunited with the Orthodox Church.  As national churches the Orthodox churches even supported the atheist regimes in certain of their nationalise aspirations.  Karelia, Galicia, Transylvania, the Banat and Backa all came under the rule of countries where Eastern Christianity was dominant and whiich gradually restricted the minority religions cultures.  Ukrainian, Romanian and Serb Orthodoxy and their Balkan culture now seem to have irreversibly detached these areas from the religions and cultural body of the West.
To a certain extent the aspirations of the European Union today can be seen as the last efforts of Western (Latin rite, Christian) culture to stabilize its Eastern borders that emerged in the Middle Ages and were consolidated in the Baroque age.  Finland, the Baltic countries, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia belong in this border zone.  If all this occurs according to the present plans, the Catholic or Protestant parts of the nation will be stranded on the other side of this border in Karelia, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania and Serbia and will be lost for Western Christianity and culture, and for the language-nation.  We Hungarians in particular could be keenly affected by this since around one third of our nation came under the rule of other peoples as a result of the new borders drawn following the world wars of the 20th century.

Concluding this brief survey it can be said that in both church and religions affairs Central Europe is characterized by a time lag in organization of both the state and the church, by a religions and cultural peripheral situation, by a certain equilibrium reached between the Greek Catholic church and religiosity, the Catholic and Protestant churches, by a religions tolerance based on this, which also allowed the mass presence of Jews over a long historical period. I believe that Central Europe can enrich the whole of Europe with these experiences and characteristics.