Liberalism didn’t exist in Martin Luther and John Calvin’s time.
As I explained this morning, Protestantism WAS NOT always liberal. It developed centuries later and then mostly in the context of the religious pluralism of the Anglo and Dutch world.
In Northern Europe from Luther’s death in 1546 until the aftermath of Kant and the Enlightenment in the early 19th century, there was no such thing as religious freedom as we understand it today. The Peace of Augsburg (1555) in the Holy Roman Empire established the Cuius regio, eius religio (“whose realm, his religion”) principle. German princes had religious freedom, but their subjects had to adhere to the confession of their prince. The principle was later extended to include Calvinism after the Peace of Westphalia (1648) which ended the Thirty Years War.
Lutheran Europe developed a system of government that integrated church and state in Lutheran territories. Lutheranism was the only religion that was tolerated in Northern Europe. There was only a Lutheran culture. Each Lutheran state had a Lutheran prince or king who was the supreme bishop that had veto power over the church. The prince or king enforced the secular law and a consistory policed the morals of the laity. In such a way, Northern Europe remained ethnically, culturally and religiously homogeneous until the arrival of liberalism.
The following excerpt comes from Eric W. Gritsch’s book A History of Lutheranism:
“Lutheran churches were viewed as orthodox when they subscribed to the Lutheran Confessions in the Book of Concord of 1580; Catholic churches were guided by the norms of the Council of Trent (1545-1563). Lutheran orthodoxy was anchored in a university theology that tried to streamline all of Christian thought and life and to provide a single system for the sake of political and ecclesiastical uniformity. Its centers were universities whose graduates would become the pastors and teachers of “pure doctrine.” Virtually all Lutheran territories in Germany and Scandinavia embraced the age of orthodoxy: electoral and ducal Saxony, Hesse, Württemberg, Brandenberg-Prussia, Braunschweig-Lüneburg, Pomerania, Strasbourg; Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland; and the Baltic states.
John Brenz (1499-1570), the leading churchman of Württemberg, created a Lutheran model of a territorialism that united civil and spiritual powers; he also led to the reorganization of the University of Tübingen. The model is developed in the document titled the “Great Church Order” of 1559. It advocates a highly centralized territorial ecclesiastical polity with the territorial prince as the highest authority. The prince was to be assisted by a consistory (in German, Kitchenrat) of theologians and laymen working with the prince. Together they controlled the traditional church life, such as the calling of pastors, doctrine, worship, and financial management. A synod, made up of members of the consistory, had the special power to make church law and to excommunicate recalcitrant sinners. Superintendents (or bishops) controlled local clergy and congregations; their reports became the basis for the legislative work of the consistory. This general system of a territorial fusion of church and state lasted in Germany until 1918-1919, when secular democratic principles won the day. …
Lutheran orthodoxy justified the territorial imperative with its doctrine of the two kingdoms (realms or regiments) that is usually traced to Augustine. (354-430) and Luther. Luther stressed the proper distinction of the two divinely instituted realms; the realm of the world, governed by secular authority, and the realm of the Christian community, anchored in the gospel. Christians belong to both realms; unbelievers belong only to the world. Neither authority, be it the secular government or the church, is to dominate the other. Because Luther experienced the domination of the church over secular government, he called on the German princes to become emergency bishops in order to avoid ecclesiastical tyranny. …
Although most exclusively marked by a religion of the mind, with traces of a religion of the heart, Lutheran orthodoxy had become an enforced custom by 1700, without much of a healthy spiritual life. Moreover, church attendance was largely enforced by law, attendance at the Lord’s Supper was mandatory, and a religious individualism prevailed. But the tyranny of the territorial church, headed by a prince-bishop, had to give way to reform.”
Frederick the Great
Frederick II. (the Great) (1740-86), although a scoffer in religious matters, declared in an official edict (April 17, 1774) that he disliked the Jews (“vor die Juden überhaupt nicht portirt”). Earlier in his reign, in signing a “Schutzbrief” for the second son of a privileged Jew, he had said that this would be exceptional, because it was his principle that the number of Jews should be diminished (1747). Still, great statesman as he was, he utilized the commercial genius of the Jews to carry out his protectionist plans, and therefore, following in the footsteps of his father, he granted exceptional privileges to Jews who opened manufacturing establishments. Thus Moses Rics obtained an exclusive privilege for hissilk-manufactory in Potsdam (1764); later on others secured similar privileges, including Isaac Bernhard, Moses Mendelssohn’s employer. While the Jews were thus benefited by the king’s protectionist policy, they suffered from it in other ways. An edict of March 21, 1769, ordered that every Jew, before he married or bought a house, must buy from 300 to 500 thaler’s worth of chinaware and export it.
When Frederick acquired Silesia (1742) he confirmed the Austrian legislation regarding the Jews (Berndt, “Gesch. der Juden in Gross-Glogau,” p. 64, Glogau, n.d.). When he took part of the kingdom of Poland, in 1772, he was with great difficulty dissuaded from expelling the Jews, his aversion to whom was especially manifested in his refusal to confirm Moses Mendelssohn’s election as a member of the Berlin Academy. His revised “Generalreglement und Generalprivilegium” of April 17, 1750 (Rönne and Simon, l.c. pp. 241 et seq.), was very narsh. It restricted the number of Jewish marriages, excluded the Jews from most of the branches of skilled labor, from dealing in wool and yarn, and from brewing and innkeeping, and limited their activity in those trades permitted to them. Of his many hostile orders may be mentioned one which held a congregation responsible if one of its members received stolen goods.
The short reign of Frederick William II. (1786-97) brought some slight relief to the Jews, as the repeal of the law compelling the buying of china, for which repeal they had to pay 4,000 thaler (1788). Individual regulations issued for various communities, as for Breslau in 1790, still breathed the medieval spirit; and a real change came only when Prussia, after the defeat at Jena (1806), inaugurated a liberal policy, a part of which was the edict of March 11, 1812, concerning the civil status of the Jews (Rönne and Simon, l.c. pp. 264 et seq.). Its most important features were the declaration of their civic equality with Christians and their admission to the army. They were further admitted to professorships in the universities, and were promised political rights for the future.
The reaction following the battle of Waterloo and the fact that Frederick William III. (1797-1840) was himself a strict reactionary caused a corresponding change of conditions. Still the edict of 1812 remained valid with the exception of section viii., declaring the right of the Jews to hold professorships; this the king canceled (1822). But the law was declared to apply only to those provinces which had been under Prussian dominion in 1812; and so it came that twenty-two anomalous laws concerning the status of the Jews existed in the kingdom. This condition, aggravated by such reactionary measures as the prohibition against the adoption of Christian names (1828), led first to the promulgation of the law of June 1, 1833, concerning the Jews in the grand duchy of Posen—this was from the start a temporary measure—and finally to the law of July 23, 1847, which extended civil equality to all Jews of Prussia and gave them certain political rights. Although the constitutions of 1848 and 1850 gave the Jews full equality, the period of reaction, beginning in the fifties, withdrew many of these rights by interpretation.
Frederick William IV. (1840-61), who declared in the beginning of his reign that he desired to exclude the Jews from military service, believed strongly in a “Christian” state. When his brother William I. (1861-88) became regent conditions began to improve; Jews were admitted to professorships and to the legal profession, but remained still practically excluded from military careers and from the service of the state. The last vestige of medievalism disappeared with the abolition of the Oath More Judaico in 1869. The history of the Jews in Prussia since 1870 is practically identical with that of the Jews of Germany. See, however, Anti-Semitism.”
This system only came to an end between 1817 and 1919.
King Frederick William III of Prussia started the ball rolling when he gave citizenship to some Jews in 1812 and foolishly attempted to merge the Lutheran and Calvinist churches in 1817. Jews gained citizenship and freedom of movement in Prussia under King Frederick William IV in 1847. “Religious freedom” was finally established by the German Empire in 1871. It was also incorporated into the constitution of the Weimar Republic in 1919.