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Historical survey

From Visigothic Spain to the Spain of Three Religions

To grasp the current characteristics of relations between religion and society and Church and State in Spain, you must go quite far back into the country’s history. Numerous references of current (...)

To grasp the current characteristics of relations between religion and society and Church and State in Spain, you must go quite far back into the country’s history. Numerous references of current situations do indeed summon up myths or symbols inscribed as much in the distant past as they are in the most recent time periods.
By the 2nd century AD, the Roman Province of Hispania – the territory was conquered in the 2nd and 3rd century BC - was strongly marked by Christianity which blossomed there from that time on. In the 4th century, Spain was also a major protagonist in the debates that troubled the Christian world.
After being conquered by barbaric tribes in the 5th century, Spain was divided into several kingdoms, including the Visigothic Kingdom, centred on Toledo, chosen as capital in 554, which achieved territorial unification and strengthening of royal authority.
The conversion of the Visigoth King, Recared, to Catholicism in 586 was considered the fundamental element in the unification of Spanish society, a unification around Christianity and not Aryanism. It was then that a theocratic monarchy was established; it marked Spain’s originality in this domain among barbaric kingdoms. This first unification was one of faith and the archbishop of Toledo went on to achieve the title of primate in 647.
This period was important because it gave a mythical nature, especially to the men of the Reconquest.
It came to an end with the Berber invasions and the defeat of the Visigoths in 711. This date commemorates Spain’s entry into another era, certainly historical, but also cultural. Spanish society was deeply influenced by the Arab and Muslim civilisations.
Under Al-Andalus, the non-Muslim communities, such as the Mozarbes (Catholics under Muslim rule) and the Jews, were protected by the authorities and enjoyed the respect of their rights. In return, they subjected themselves to this authority, recognised their inferiority and were banned from preaching.
The brilliant Al-Andalus civilisation is also a strong symbolic referent in Spain today. It is proclaimed as much by the civil authorities as it is by Spanish Muslims, who want to underline the influence that Islam has had on Spain’s history and culture, as being the example of a tolerant Spain, much like present-day Spain.

See : Two views on the Arabic and Muslim influence on Spanish society (in French).

D 13 September 2012    AClaude Proeschel

From the Reconquest to Unity through Faith

The Reconquista, the reconquest of territory by Christians from the Berbers, was a complex, multi-secular process that ended on 2 January 1492 with the fall of Granada. Driven by different (...)

The Reconquista, the reconquest of territory by Christians from the Berbers, was a complex, multi-secular process that ended on 2 January 1492 with the fall of Granada.
Driven by different motives, from demographic pressure to religious beliefs, the Reconquest took on a more mythical dimension when it acquired the status of a crusade, thus involving all of Christianity. This phenomenon took place primarily after the 11th century, when Pope Alexander I granted the participants of the Reconquista the same indulgences that would later be granted to the Crusaders.
Nevertheless, the Reconquest period was marked by great originality. Indeed, Spain, like the majority of European countries, inherited from the Middle Ages, an almost universally accepted principle that it carried over the centuries to follow: that Christian faith is an essential element of the reality of the political community, that is to say that only Catholics may be the King’s subjects since they alone make up the kingdom. At the time, France and England shared this view. The Spanish situation was quite particular, as a result of the presence of two strong, protected religious communities on their territory. The Jewish community being protected by old legislation and Muslims, by contract agreements made during the Reconquest and therefore endowed with a specific organisation and directly connected to the sovereign power.
Yet, in the 15th century relations between the monarch and his subjects underwent a change that succeeded as a result of the policy engaged by Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. A transformation process resulted in the constitution of the Spanish nation, through the identification of the King, the Queen, the territory and the community. The fundamental factor of such a community is its religion, its faith; without it, it cannot, or will cease to, exist. By identifying himself with religion the monarch became the concentration, summit and the synthesis of the community itself, which he was inexorably reduced to serving. Without the community there was no sovereign power and without Christianity there was no community.
That is why the period of the Catholic Kings and the policy of unification through faith that they set out is so important to understanding Spain. The backwardness of the modern nation is a result of, among other factors, how the unity of the Peninsula was constituted, through the expulsion of Jews (decree of 31 March 1492), then the Muslims, this phase was completed by Charles Quint when the Pope released him from his promise to not trouble the last Moors of Spain. That is the "religious maxim" to which Spain remained faithful at least until the 18th century, especially through the notion of limpieza de sangre, purity of the blood, in the name of which even new Christians were eliminated. The Hispanic community was integrated into one faith and all of its institutions were made to be dependant on it.

D 13 September 2012    AClaude Proeschel

Attempts at Liberalisation, a limited development

Until 1931 and during the establishment of the 2nd Republic, the religion-society and Church-State relations changed very little, including during the 19th century, contrary to the majority of (...)

Until 1931 and during the establishment of the 2nd Republic, the religion-society and Church-State relations changed very little, including during the 19th century, contrary to the majority of western countries. According to Guy Hermet’s particularly pertinent analysis, this century was "a historical dismissal. It was … the stage of an enactment or a flawed essay, where the letter shows through but not the spirit or conditions of the changes that are taking place everywhere else in Europe." This was particularly true for religious liberty.
On the constitutional level, an effort was made: the Constitution of 1869 was the first to establish the freedom of religions, but its history was short-lived. Furthermore, it did not take away Catholicism’s status as State religion. It did, however, give Protestantism the opportunity to re-establish itself on the Peninsula, although in a limited way, but this time on a long-term basis. This is called the 2nd Reformation.
On a social level, people’s attitudes changed slowly. At the end of the 19th and 20th century, however, there are reports of several efforts made toward the Sephardim, descendants of expelled Jews. Although several movements had seen the light of day in the past, they had failed, impeded by the political situation and opinions of the general population.
During the rise in anti-Semitic threats in Eastern Europe, several key figures spoke out to demand that the Sephardim have their citizenship restored or that they return to their territory.
In intellectual circles, others also raised their voices, like Ángel Pulido, a liberal senator that left his mark on generations to follow. He had different foundations for his arguments, including economic riches in view of Spain’s decline, intermediaries with foreign countries and the country’s political grandeur.
Finally, the last significant aspect of this time period was when Spanish nationality was granted by Primo de Rivera to the few thousand Jews of Thessalonica and Alexandria, following the treaties with Turkey.
His policy should be underlined as it is representative of Spain’s attitude in this domain until the mid 1950s. That is, they favoured the restoration of Spanish nationality but opposed the arrival of individuals when possible.
Yet, despite these reservations, there was some immigration at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. While Spain was still divided over the concept of religious freedom, several religious communities, like that of Seville, began to emerge.

See : L’instauration de la liberté religieuse en Espagne en 1869 (In French).

D 13 September 2012    AClaude Proeschel

The Second Republic and the Civil War

The Second Republic, under which a new Constitution was instituted, was established on 14 April 1931. Its article 26 outlined the suppression of the religious budget and ordered the disbanding of (...)

The Second Republic, under which a new Constitution was instituted, was established on 14 April 1931.
Its article 26 outlined the suppression of the religious budget and ordered the disbanding of religious assemblies bound to the Pope by a vow of obedience (particularly the Jesuits), and threatened to extend this measure to every association that could be considered dangerous to State security. Moreover, it subjected religious groups, including the Catholic Church, to a particular future law regarding religious organisations.
It thus established separation, and was, in this sense, a symbol for the Left-wing government in power, which considered French-style secularisation as a fundamental basis of democracy, both centralised and social.
However, its sudden adoption was a serious political blunder, insofar as it was perceived by Catholics as a veritable anticlerical provocation. The president of the provisional government, Niceto Alcala Zamora, resigned as a sign of protest, just like the Minister of the Interior, Miguel Maura, and went as far as threatening to head a Catholic opposition. The new president of the Council of Ministers, Manual Azaña, in office until September 1933, used political intransigence when applying republican principles in a country divided by them. He wanted to cause an irreversible change in the political system by destroying straightaway the influence of powers like the Church, the Army and the great landowners. However, these elite, who, in principle, had no reason to give up a neutral attitude as long as they did not feel that their fundamental interests were threatened, found themselves forced into open resistance then into retaliation, in the event of a direct attack, and were then able to find support in a traditionalist or conservative fraction of society.
Azaña, who was indifferent to this risk, stimulated the legislative zeal of the Cortes. Regarding Church-State relations, the Order of the Jesuits actually was disbanded, a law on divorce was passed, while, in theory, religious instruction was prohibited, without, however, the public schools being able to really fulfil their full educational mission.
On this subject Guy Hermet rightly underlines the dilemma with which republicans were faced. Either they chose to favour, in their views as well as in their actions, the exaltation of an uncompromised democratic concept, thus mortgaging its admissibility in traditionalist circles, rather foreign to the great republican principles, and this without having any guarantee of support on the anarchist side of the proletariat, hostile to any rational political approach. Or, they were initially worried about consolidating, as best as possible, a democracy of possibility, which is pragmatic, and to make it last, while ignoring the strict application of principles, with an aim of making it more and more convincing for everyone. He retained the first option, without really weighing its risks: instantly weaken the foundations of the new regime which, although only had a few declared enemies in the beginning, could nevertheless not pride itself on having many friends, and whose slightly committed observers quickly turned into adversaries.
Guy Hermet’s analysis also brings up an aspect of the problem that is not often dealt with, that is, putting words before actions and wanting to reassure the masses on the analysis of a change in their situation and convince others of the all in all "platonic" nature of these changes. The republicans thought that anticlericalism, among other things, could represent an efficient distraction in the face of the slow-moving economic and social changes.
This blatant error had consequences in every aspect of Spanish society, especially among Catholics. Many of them, who had admitted the necessity of reforming Church-State relations and who would have accepted a Republic of order, found themselves confronted with changes that went much further than they were willing to accept, and all they could do was refuse their trust to men who would support or initiate unjustified attacks on the ideas and institutions to which they were most attached. The Spanish Republic suffered from its attitude towards Catholicism and Catholics, which provided the anti-republican forces with a reason for discontent around which the regime’s opponents could rally.
What, in this reasoning, could be considered the self-destruction of the Republic resulted in a three-year Civil War, from 1936 to 1939, known as the confrontation of the two Spains.
On the nationalist side, the term patriotic crusade slowly made its appearance. In their Collective Letter of 1 July 1937, the Spanish bishops, until then divided, unanimously supported this vision.

D 13 September 2012    AClaude Proeschel

Francoism, from the return of national-Catholicism to the relaxation of the last several years

The Franco period was governed by the Fundamental Laws, decreed between 1938 and 1968, including The Spaniard’s Charter, Fuero de los Españoles, promulgated on 18 July 1945, which sets out in (...)

The Franco period was governed by the Fundamental Laws, decreed between 1938 and 1968, including The Spaniard’s Charter, Fuero de los Españoles, promulgated on 18 July 1945, which sets out in article 6:

"The profession and practice of the Roman Catholic religion, which is that of the Spanish State, shall enjoy official protection. Nobody shall be troubled on the basis of their religious beliefs or in the private practice of their religion. No ceremonies of exterior manifestations of a non-Catholic religion are permitted."

This article was included in the Concordat of 27 August 1953 between Spain and the Holy See. The goal of the Concordat, which is clearly defined in its preamble, was, by repeating the previous agreements and completing them, to constitute the standards of reciprocal relations between the contracting parties, in accordance with the law of God, the Catholic tradition and the Spanish nation. According to the first article, "the Catholic and Apostolic Roman religion continues to be the only religion of the Spanish nation and shall enjoy the rights and prerogatives that are hers in accordance with divine law and Canon law". The text also grants the Catholic Church and its members a certain number of privileges, or confirms them, such as a special status for the members of the clergy or financial aid from the State to different ecclesiastical institutions. Lastly, it gives the head of the Spanish State the right to nominate bishops.
As of 1936, a number of legal measures had nevertheless been taken in the aims of stopping the secularising reforms of the republican period. The law of 23 September 1939 repealed divorce. The Order of 10 March 1941 confirmed the de facto obligation of religious marriage, by forcing couples who wished to avoid it to provide proof that they were not affiliated with Catholicism. Also, on a social level, several texts were promulgated between 1936 and 1943, which made religious instruction once again necessary in State schools, re-established the subsidies for denominational instruction and granted the Church the right to control the overall educational system.
In 1967, with the vote on the law regarding Religious Freedom, there was a slight shift in the previous attitude that had denied the presence of religious minorities on Spanish territory, forcing them into practising in secret and into social non-existence. Drawn up since 1964, this law corresponded to the new state of religious sentiment which was especially evident through the Vatican II Council and aimed at making decisions in accordance with Spanish legislation. The texts refer to the law of 17 May 1956 according to which Spanish legislation must draw its inspiration from the teachings of the Catholic Church. And yet, the treatment of religious freedom was one of the three domains that, in the Concordat of 1953, were treated in a manner that was not in line with the Council: indeed, its 1st article closed any possibility of legal status in Spain for all non-Catholic denominations.
The law was voted by the Cortes on 28 June and published on 1 July 1967 after having been approved by the Holy See. It introduced certain modifications but did not, nevertheless, challenge the position of Catholicism as the only socially imposed religion. Exercising the right to religious freedom, "devised in accordance with Catholic doctrine", which permitted the celebration of other public religions, had to be compatible with the denominationalism of the Spanish State as proclaimed in the Fundamental Laws. The text specified that religious beliefs were not a reason for inequality before the law, and permitted non Catholics to have a civil marriage, on the condition, however, that they could prove that they were not Catholic. Lastly, it provided for the legal recognition of non Catholic religions through the formation of declared religious associations, thus consecrating a regime duality, a standard for the Catholic Church, which continues to enjoy a preferential situation and a standard of submission to internal private law for the other religions which moreover confirms the intervention of the State in their internal statutes.
On the other hand, from a more concrete point of view, between the end of the 50s and Franco’s death, there were several developments. In this manner, despite the unfavourable cultural situation, the return to Spain of the Sephardim increased and continued. This was particularly due to the deterioration of the political situation in Islamic lands and in Latin America, which generated a number of exiles.
Furthermore, certain attempts at official recognition found an echo. The Jewish community of Madrid was recognised as a private association in 1965. Shortly after, it was also the case of the Federation of the Communities of Madrid, Barcelona, Ceuta and Mililla, which became the Sephardim Federation of Spain.
This evolution was linked to the universal Catholic Church, but also to the non proselyte nature of the Jewish communities which differs from that of the Protestant Churches. For this reason they provoked less hostility from the hierarchy of the Catholic clergy.

D 13 September 2012    AClaude Proeschel

Spain Today: a Modern-Day Democracy

Franco died on 20 November 1975. From 1976 to 1978, Spain went through a process of transition – la Transición – towards democracy, which was supported by the majority of the political community and (...)

Franco died on 20 November 1975. From 1976 to 1978, Spain went through a process of transition – la Transición – towards democracy, which was supported by the majority of the political community and the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church, which had begun to distance itself from Franco’s declining regime, could not be considered a stakeholder in the constituent process, because it would mean the negation of secularity. It did nevertheless contribute through its attitude to facilitating the Transition and legitimising the democracy. However, despite favouring the development and acceptance of the spirit of the new constitution the Catholic Church was not always able to integrate the consequences. Marked by the fear of secularity, its requests and supports reflected the ambiguity of the support given to establishing a religiously neutral State joined with the desire of a special treatment as a result of its historical and numerical influence.
The new regime, based on a system of inter-confessional cooperation, therefore guarantees the religious and ideological freedom of all Spanish citizens. It also experienced an evolution in ordinary social legislation, in the areas of divorce or abortion, particularly during the governments of Felipe González (1982-1992).
Spain was able to find solutions regarding religious pluralism that respect both the democratic principles and the particularities of its past, even though it did not have a real tradition in the matter. Although several problems remained, they seemed above all due to the brief stabilisation period of the system and did not seem to challenge the democratic and secular condition of the State.

D 13 September 2012    AClaude Proeschel

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