The Peace of Augsburg (1555) proved to be an archimedean point in the subsequent development of Western Europe. It institutionalised the principle of state religious establishment. The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, tenuous heir to the empire of Charlemagne (the First Reich), was trying to exert control over the various principalities and powers in his dominion. A number of religious wars resulted--ending in the Peace of Augsburg which established in imperial law the principle that the "faith of the prince is the faith of the people".
So it came about that North-West Europe was divided into either Lutheran or Roman Catholic fiefdoms and principalities. But the Christian faith cannot prosper in a religious establishment where both Church and personal Christian faith is established by the civil state. Christ alone is Head of the Church and Lord of the conscience.
The responsibility of the state, as ordained by Almighty God, is to punish evildoers, not establish the Church nor lord over the consciences of subjects.
The subsequent "wars of religion" in Western Europe were really wars over enforcement of state authority over religious matters (and all else). The consequence was ceaseless warfare and growing statism.
The slow, convulsive, miserable, violent death of the Holy Roman Empire . . . belonged to the first phase of a new age of territorial and (ultimately) ideological wars, nationalist and (then) imperialist wars, wars prompted by commerce, politics, colonial interests, blood and soil and (at the last) visions of the future of Europe and even of humanity: England's wars with the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, and France; Sweden's wars with Poland, Russia and Denmark; France's wars with Spain, the Netherlands, and the League of Augsburg; the war of the Spanish succession, the war of the Polish succession, the two Silesian wars of Austrian succession, the third Silesian war; revolutionary France's wars with Britain, Holland and Spain; the wars of the the First, Second, and Third Coalitions, and all the Napoleonic wars; the wars of Italian unification, the wars of German unification; the Franco-Prussian War; the first and second Balkan wars, the First World War; the Second World War . . . (to name just the most obvious examples). Never in European history had there been so many standing armies, or large armies on campaign, or so many men endowed with the power to send other men to kill and die. [David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), p. 97.]The consensus amongst historians of the modern period is that the Christian religion produced senseless bloody wars; the rise of the unified nation state reduced the scourge of war. When it had to be resorted to, modern war was meaningful and morally uplifting because it was fought over ideals like freedom, justice, and humanity. This amounts to a trick upon both the dead and the living.
The Wars of Religion were really wars over state powers and controls. The non-religious wars were really over state powers and controls. In both cases, religion and human ideals were largely pretexts and justifications for deeper, malevolent motives. And so Modern Europe is the time and place of hitherto unparalleled bloodshed and violence--although the rest of the world has since caught up fast.
Every age, obviously, has known wars and rumors of wars, and cruelty, injustice, oppression, murderous zeal and murderous indifference; and men will obviously kill for any cause or for none. But, for the sheer scale of its violences, the modern period is quite unsurpassed.The secular anti-Christian world is the inevitable outcome of the civil state exerting power and control over the Church and Christian consciences. The Christian faith is wrought and sustained by the Spirit of God only, and the means He is pleased to use. The State is not one of them.
The Thirty Years War, with its appalling toll of civilian casualties, was a scandal to the consciences of the nations of Europe; but midway through the twentieth century, Western society had become so inured to the idea of war as a total conflict between one entire people and another that even liberal democracies did not scruple to bomb open cities from the air, or to sue incendiary or nuclear devices to incinerate tens of thousands of civilians, sometimes for only the vaguest of military objectives.
Perhaps this is the price of "progress" or "liberation". (Hart, ibid.)
The outcome, wrought over three hundred years, is not a defeat of the Spirit of the Living God, but His judgment. We are made to reap the fruits we have sown.
The special--indeed, unique--contribution of the newly emancipated secular order to the political constitution of Western society . . . can be reduced to two thoroughly modern, thoroughly post-Christian, thoroughly "enlightened" principles: the absolute state--and total war. (Hart, ibid., p. 98.)The only way out (and back) is repentance and a renewal of true faith.