Religion has always played a fundamental role in society. Indeed, up to the sixteenth century, the Roman Catholic Church benefitted of its temporal power. This temporal power allowed the Popes to have sovereign authority over the papal State, thus they did not exercise their authority only in the religious sphere but also in the public one. Therefore, the situations created were contradictory. The Popes could, indeed, start a war against other States, mainly for territorial and political aims, using their religious authority, such as excommunication or interdiction to achieve certain purposes of political and “earthly” nature. The Church’s temporal power, therefore, was used to preserve its unity and independence. However, the end of the Roman Catholic Church’s temporal power can be traced back as far as the sixteenth century, more precisely 1517 with the start of the Protestant Reformation started by Martin Luther and John Calvin:
The beginning of the modern period can be traced to the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation, with its supposed affirmation of the individual as standing directly in relation to God, a God sanctioning prosperity in this life and all its worldliness. But it can equally well be traced to the eighteenth-century Enlightenment with its virulent anticlericalism and its attack on all kind of religious myth. (Franke 220)
It can thus be said that the Church, at that time, was a despotic and fundamentalist body that professed certain values that the very same Church did not follow or respect. All moral and traditional principles lost their significance before the deep and well established materialist interest of the Church, which used the above-mentioned power of excommunication, interdiction, and eternal damnation if it did not receive donations, to instil fear in people and maintain its rule.
What is important to consider, in order to understand the roots and complexity of Nietzsche’s criticism of Christianity, is the historical context in which his thought developed. The nineteenth century was a century of great changes and transformations regarding various aspects of society, ranging from the political sphere to the financial one. During the various processes of unification of the European states, two concepts were gradually consolidating in the minds of European citizens: nationality and liberalism. The latter caused a humongous economic expansion given also by the establishment of a free market and, consequently, capitalism. However, parallel to these changes, a strong current of anti-positivist thought developed. Furthermore, in Prussia, that is modern day Germany, these changes were not welcome under the rule of Prime Minister and Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck (Winks, and Neuberger).
The general feeling in Europe was, therefore, pessimistic from the philosophical point of view. This general negativity led Nietzsche, other philosophers, and political thinkers to assess it, attributing to it the term nihilism....